Through the Mirror
Dialogues and Connections
Traveling Through Now
Live at the Blue Monk
Live at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000
Live at the Noe Valley Ministry
The Present Gift
Taran's Free Jazz Hour, 01/13/07 Angers, France: Joel Futterman
Taran's Free Jazz Hour, 02/10/07 Angers, France: Ike Levin
"Fast Forward to the Past" East Bay Express: Ike Levin 10/07 NEW!
"Kenny G? Kenny G Who?" East Bay Express: Ike Levin
All About Jazz: Ike Levin
Through the Mirror
Together Again Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin (Charles Lester Music) PDF
The New York City Jazz Record
By Jeff Stockton
Dialogues and Connections
JOEL FUTTERMAN & IKE LEVIN
Dialogues and Connections (Charles Lester Music)
By Clifford Allen
Bay Area reedman Ike Levin (also the proprietor of Charles Lester Music) and DC-area pianist and soprano saxophonist Joel Futterman have been collaborating for more than a decade, either as a duo or in trio with Jackson, Mississippi drummer and historian Alvin Fielder or cellist Kash Killion. Dialogues and Connections is their third duo disc to date, filling eighty-minutes with two multipart, marathon conversations. Though Levin has quite a different approach to the tenor from Kidd Jordan, another regular collaborator with Futterman, Dialogues and Connections makes an interesting counterpoint to the recently released Jordan-Futterman disc Interaction (JDF, 2010). Futterman's pianism is partly rolling barrelhouse, part dusky introspection and completely immediate, drawing upon history in flashes and flurries, clustered and parsed to meld with Levin's sharply-burnished exhortations.
Without a drummer to carry gestures forward in a traditionally rhythmic sense, Futterman and Levin must rely on an extraordinary amount of force and velocity to maintain toe-tapping dynamism, but their telepathic language of sweeps and harrowing drive keeps the pair in constant flight. The third part of the first conversation employs glassy near-stasis, rustling piano strings a silvery background to Levin's breathy, warbling bass clarinet (on which his phraseology is palpably different from the high-octane post-Rollins tenor), slowly moving into a quietly keening Dolphy-Byard paean. Of course, the pair moves into distinctly different areas from there, Levin popping linear asides to Futterman's pointillist carpet. The second suite of conversations begins with the pianist doubling on curved soprano in concert with Levin's tenor, left hand keeping particulate tempo while the right takes over in dervish-like wails that encircle an urbanely throaty, Johnny Griffin-like cadence. Lush outlines signal the second conversation's second part, in which a Trane-like modal ballad form creeps out, though Futterman takes it in a new, scribbled direction as pillowy blats and knotted squeaks pile on in contrast to roiling chordal blocks. This set of duos is more than "mere" musical conversation, instead deliberately forging new and immediate pathways with serenity and intensity.
JOEL FUTTERMAN/ IKE LEVIN – DIALOGUES & CONNECTIONS
By David Grundy
James Siegel's cover design – an eerie, quasi-Cubist photo assemblage, which forms a composite portrait of the two musicians –provides us some clues as to how this improvised collaboration works before we've even listened to the music. The album is divided into two 'conversations' (extended pieces, split into several parts, which perhaps function rather like the two sections of an LP), and terms like 'conversation', 'dialogue', 'connection' are all appropriate, but there is something more – as the photo indicates, what we hear here is not only a case of sharing and exchange, but also involves a kind of merging, particularly when Futterman and Levin are both playing saxophone– the different personalities and approaches of the two players mesh and entwine in the whole that is the music, without compromising either's individual integrity and unique identity.
Futterman's recent work, a large body of releases available through his website, includes another piano/sax duo, this time with his other regular collaborator, Edward 'Kidd' Jordan. As on that release, the musicians here turn on a dime between any number of styles and moods, working in a suite-like fashion without sacrificing an overall sense of coherence and flow. Things begin with Levin on tenor; towards the end of the track, his playing is underpinned by Futterman's tolling, bell-like lower notes, with a hint of poly-rhythmic, two-handed boogie-woogie. Equal dexterity in all ranges of the keyboard is a characteristic of the pianist's work; he tends to occupy the range and space that would normally be provided by a bass player. At times, this approach combines melody, rhythm and harmony into a composite whole that has its antecedents in horn players, bassists, and even drummers, as much as it does in, say, Thelonious Monk. Futterman points out in the liners to his 1982 trio date with Jimmy Lyons, 'In-Between-Position(s)': "I tend to phrase my music much like a horn player because of those early years [spent studying and working with trumpeter Clarence (Gene) Shaw]."
Back to the music at hand, and altissimo saxophone sounds move swiftly into undulating balladry, Futterman's rubbed and plucked piano strings underscored by a pedalled bass clef tread; Levin picks up on the colouristic change and adds equally eerie bass clarinet. When a lovely, three-times-repeated upwards and downwards run from Futterman – reminiscent of Claude Debussy's quasi-Oriental keyboard works, and beautifully relaxed, as if fingers were being casually stroked over the piano keys – transitions into romantic chord changes, Levin's clarinet becomes mellifluous, though with a woody, clicking edge. A stretch of solo piano – hyperactive bass accompaniment, recurring chords, fleet-fingered jazz phrases, and melodic figures interrupted by more dissonant explorations – cues in Levin, on tenor once more, the music taking on an urgent tone as brief declamatory statements move into passages of close shadowing and imitation. Futterman takes another solo, fraught rumbles and swoops giving way to jazz-derived playing via a repeated phrase, which is translated from one idiom to another in a transition so skilful that it can't help but raise a wondering smile. This kind of micro-level, instant compositional logic ensures that the music's structural coherence more than matches its emotional favour; in addition, the musicians are capable of thinking on a wider, 'macro' scale, memorizing particular fragments for later use, returning to particular kinds of texture and even to specific themes. Note, for example, the way a certain set of chords recurs through the first conversation, and the re-use of a melodic figure stated right at the start of the second conversation, a figure which has something in common with the themes John Coltrane deployed on such magnificently urgent, turbulent records as 'Sun Ship'. What seems to me to be happening here is that the satisfaction and anchoring possibility of recurrent material is being retained, without the rigidity of a pre-ordained format: the distinction between 'theme' and 'solo' is broken down so that all material can be given equal weight, freeing the musicians to pursue the imperatives of improvisation and interaction – which they do with aplomb.
Both in the parts and in the whole, then, these 'Dialogues and Connections' are rarely less than absorbing; furthermore, one must celebrate the fact that the recording (the album was mixed, like much of Futterman's recent recorded work, by Dr Benjamin Tomassetti) possesses the scope necessary for us to hear the wide dynamic and colouristic spectrum of this performance in its full richness. Fine work all round. (DG)
JOEL FUTTERMAN / IKE LEVIN
Dialogues and Connections (Charles Lester Music)
By Clifford Allen
Virginia-based pianist/soprano saxophonist Joel Futterman and Bay Area reedman Ike Levin have forged a fruitful musical relationship over a number of years and eight co-led discs, and Dialogues and Connections is their third recording as a duo. While naturally the expanse of flyover landmass between the two players makes frequent meetings difficult, a shared language of loquacious communication binds their work together. From a literary perspective, there's also common ground – Futterman has written a novel, while Levin is a poet. Their interaction, forged over time and geography, is entirely immediate as well as historical, and as with much of their shared and independent music, the eleven duets represented here are totally improvised. Levin is a flinty-toned fire breather and, like Futterman, has a way with words though he's a bit more declarative in style than the pianist, whose stories and improvisations unfurl in a gradual, drawling dialect with burbling pronouncements and warm reflections gaining equal footing. As much as the duo revels in excitable kinetics, the contrast between instruments and methods draws out interesting turns – Futterman eking out passages of roiling romanticism a la Jaki Byard, while Levin juts a burnished, long sigh or the two commingle in refracting volleys.
As the first conversation closes, the pianist explores spindly architecture, cascading into dense arpeggiated forms as the left hand marks intervals with winking jounce. It's an unaccompanied, raw kaleidoscope that introduces some of the nakedest saxophone playing of the set, Levin working through smoky harbingers of late nights and frosty mornings. Barrelhouse rock and roll introduces the seventh dialogue, Futterman's repetition somewhere between boogie and Sonny Clark while simultaneously coaxing ecstatic wails from his soprano as the two weave an entwined flight. Though volume is something that both players call to their sides, it's not paramount. Futterman can paint a sparser parallel as Levin's squawk reaches foot-stomping intensity, or the reedman gives a rhythmic chug to the right hand's upward telescope. Though obviously sprung from a different bond, Dialogues and Connections makes an interesting comparison to Futterman's recent juggernaut duo with tenorman and frequent partner Kidd Jordan, Interaction (self-released, 2010). Whether joined by compatriots or unaccompanied, Futterman's art is both expansive and homespun.
Traveling Through Now
Signal To Noise #54
Click here to read.
JOEL FUTTERMAN/ALVIN FIELDLER /Ike Levin Trio
TRAVELLING THROUGH NOW
BY Dave Grundy
Joel Futterman tends to be a somewhat overlooked figure in the free music press: perhaps that’s inevitable, given that he plays the sort of high-octane, technically brilliant and thrillingly fast music which inevitably brings to mind comparisons with Cecil Taylor (though his melodic patterning is arguably very different). That’s an impression reinforced even more by the fact that he made some important recordings with Taylor’s saxophonist of choice, Jimmy Lyons – though this in fact might indicate a difference from Taylor, given that Lyons would hardly be happy playing with a pianist dealing in second-hand imitation (particularly as his own groups tended to dispense with keyboard altogether, pairing him with Karen Borca’s bassoon and Paul Murphy’s drums).
Given, then, that Futterman is undoubtedly worthy of stepping out from Taylor’s shadow – given, in fact, that he did so long ago, it’s just that the critics haven’t moved out with him – any project in which he is involved will always be one to look out for, will be an important event for those with an interest in improvised music which possesses particularly qualities of energy, particular elements of force, and of direct, but varied emphases.
He’s certainly in good company here: percussionist Alvin Fieldler is, again, another overlooked musician, but one with a hugely important role in a large slab of African-American creative music in the latter half of the twentieth century, as indicated by Hank Shteamer’s online mixtape, presented at the ‘Destination…Out’ blog a few months ago. Ike Levin, meanwhile, on tenor sax and bass clarinet, seems determined to match everything the other two cook up, while his playing on the quieter sections demonstrates an able command of jazz-based balladry.
Track titles suggest intent and intensity, ambition and desired philosophical weight: ‘Illumination’, ‘Ascendance’, ‘Life’s Whisper’, ‘Dance of Discovery’. On a more specific level, a short spoken word introduction establishes the music’s method: “three different personalities playing – one might be playing slow, one might be burning, the other might be playing just colours. That’s the way we normally play.” A minute into ‘Primal Center’, Futterman’s roiling melodic figures, rising ever upward from both left and right hands simultaneously, suggest boogie-woogie taken to a particularly manic extreme; over the top, Levin lays down longer notes, and Futterman underneath throws in a little McCoy Tyner as the band transforms into the 1965 John Coltrane Quartet for a few seconds.
But, while, as with Coltrane’s group, there’s a sense of necessity, of compulsion, this music is by no means a throwback: Futterman is less inclined to stay in one place, on one plane, than McCoy, quickly moving from those dark, shadowy chords to rolling round the upper register or playing with echoes of idiom; sometimes, too, digging out his soprano sax in concordance with Levin, as on the held tones and questing fanfares of ‘Illumination’. With the absence of bass, it’s often left to Fieldler to fill in that part of the sonic palette – his busy bass drum and Futterman’s rumbling left hand, always building to some peak, falling away then back again, ascending, building momentum, or sometimes, just running on the spot, temporarily arresting the music’s onward urgent flow, while Levin smears shrill enquiry to the wind.
After the opening few tracks, connections with jazz become more explicit: ‘Life’s Whisper’ moves in and out of being an old-fashioned ballad, though kept at a pitch of tension by Futterman’s inside-piano work and by the way he stretches out the pauses between phrases, delaying expectation and suddenly springing the next figure, which might be a chord no less shimmering and lovely for being the sort of thing you always find in a ballad feature, or might be a dissonant single note (leaving it open for Levin whether to respond in kind or to resolve into a swooning jazz motif). The jazz connection segues straight over into the next piece, ‘Dance of Discovery’: a knocking figure from Fieldler’s drum-kit asks the question ‘where’s this going?’ as things begin tentatively, mysteriously: slow-paced swing from Levin and Futterman soon falls back into less syncopated, more meditative work, but the pace picks up again, and as the track gathers momentum, Levin’s increasingly impassioned bass clarinet improvisations over Fieldler’s steady rhythms and Futterman’s deliciously inevitable chordal patterns recalls Frank Wright’s work with French rhythm sections on the albums ‘Kevin, My Dear Son’ and ‘Shouting the Blues’. What follows is a perfect example of Futterman’s ability to turn on a dime from a series of repeated, set chords, to wild, scampering sweeps; and, indeed, on the final track, these two modes seem to grow out of each other, the difference between the two erased in the maelstrom, Futterman pounding out consonant chords with one hand while the other traverses into more ‘avant’ territory, both simply manifestations of the same impulse, the desire to play hard, to play to the limits, whether that means repetition or a frantic, helter-skelter search for new material.
Indeed, if there’s anything that characterises ‘Travelling Through Now’, it’s this easy and natural move in and out of idiomatic playing – or rather, from one idiom (relatively ‘straight’ jazz) to another (free jazz), as if they were the most natural bedfellows (and they are). If the album title suggests something ‘just passing through’, it would do well to remember that ‘now’ is where we always are, and as the series of ‘nows’ captured here go on to exist in more ‘nows’ as they are played and re-played in who knows how many different contexts, the chain of events is potentially infinite. Being a ‘moment dweller’, as these three are, might, then, actually be more lasting than other kinds of supposed ‘permanence’; an unstable stability, to be sure, but what in life isn’t so?
All About Jazz
by Henry Smith
Free jazz has always defined itself more by what it is not than by what it is. With an embrace of complete freedom of form comes a nearly infinite realm of musical possibility that has continued to expand since its cultural relevance began in the early 1960s. As various interpretations arose, a sort of nonlinear historiography developed including, among others, the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane, the "small instruments" sound of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the big band reconfigurations of Sun Ra and the cerebral impressionism of Cecil Taylor, to name a few. This list is limited of course, but it does represent a map of some of the approaches to the free jazz idiom.
It is rare when these distinct forms are combined, but on pianist Joel Futterman, drummer Alvin Fielder and saxophonist Ike Levin's Traveling Through Now, there is both an embrace of the approach as a whole and a respect for the music's rich history. In the skittering and choppy rhythmic interplay of "Primal Center," Futterman's piano exudes an energy and harmonic complexity not unlike Taylor while the aptly titled "Ascendence" features Levin sounding like Coltrane sometime between A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964) and Ascension (Impulse!, 1966). Fielder displays his talents on the loose percussive discourse conjured on "Connextions."
This is not to say that the group does not have their own sound either. The unit is comprised of true professionals who are not only practitioners of the form, but significant contributors to its current legacy. Fielder, a founding member of the AACM, has played with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Sun Ra and William Parker while Futterman has a strong affiliation with Taylor, saxophonist Jimmy Lyons as well as Joseph Jarman, "Kidd" Jordan and Richard Davis. Levin's tenure with creative poetry and jazz collective Positive Knowledge has not restricted him from working with straighter players including Von Freeman and Ira Sullivan.
The unit's individual sound is all across the album, with strong playing coming from all members. "Dance of Discovery," features Dolphy-like chromaticism from Levin's bass clarinet, is a soft ballad like piece whose feel is one of sympathetic and comfortable playing. The trio's ability to spontaneously compose these works is astounding. "Moment Dweller" sees Fielder keeping afloat the snaking horn lines of Levin and Futterman, who capably switches to soprano saxophone on the number. "Outertopeia" takes on angular approach on spiritual themes that jerk about with great mobility.
For a trio with such a history both together and individually, it is no surprise that Traveling Through Now is as good as it is. What is surprising is the group's ability to pull from so many sources without ever sounding like mere imitators. The result is an enlivened recording that both honors its past and points heartily toward the future progression of the medium.
by Tom Sekowski
Joel Futterman's piano prowess has always amazed me as something that is consistently strong. His ivory clusters are rapidly evolving and ever changing. "Traveling Through Now" sees him continue the relationship he's nurtured with sax/clarinet player Ike Levin and percussionist Alvin Fielder. Recorded last October, the music is doggedly solid. Alongside piano, Futterman also takes up soprano sax on a few numbers. His tonal range is wide, especially when Levin on tenor sax pushes Futterman to the limits. Melodies make it to the forefront too, as is heard on the elusive, pretty ballad "Life's Whisper". This is a fine album, one that continues to shine a light on this crucial, but most overlooked figure in the world of improvisation.
By Phillip McNally
I’m not familiar with Ike Levin’s work but on Traveling Through Now (released on Charles Lester Music), he plays a big toned tenor in the Coltrane school, though his approach is very lyrical. He doubles on bass clarinet too, but even on that instrument his keening tone brings not Dolphy, but Trane (who never played the instrument) to mind. He is joined by Joel Futterman, mostly on piano, sounding here a lot like Alice Coltrane, and Alvin Fielder keeps things moving with a rumbling bass drum filled with drive. I think you get the idea of the heritage of this music. This trio is on a quest for enlightenment, and they are clearly in the Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane bag. They create a great sound on this recording with a lot of heavyweight playing.
All About Jazz
By Peter Sanchez
Few groups let alone trios have as an impressive discography as Joel Futterman, Ike Levin, and Alvin Fielder. Three improvisers with heavy credentials in improvised music from Fielder’s tenure with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Muhal Richard Abrams, to Futterman’s performances with Jimmy Lyons and Raphe Malik to Ike Levin’s traditions with Chicago mainstays Von Freeman and Gene Ammons, the Trio converge once more to make remarkable music. Futterman is questing throughout Traveling Through Now—a misnomer of sorts since the group plays as much orthodox, classic swing on record as anything mislabeled “avant garde.” Often Futterman is provoking, prodding Levin and Fielder to extraordinary heights. For his part, Levin’s delivery is impeccable, on the mark, and superb. Traveling Through Now is Levin’s most well-rounded performance on record since his inspiring Live at Noe Valley Ministry recording. Hardly a background figure, Fielder propels the music consistently. Disciplined and deliberate in his contributions. Fielder’s flawless structure is the foundation for ebb and flow of the Trio’s music and the tension bringing the envelope back and forth. Never a dull moment to be found, Traveling Through Now, is a new standard for this precious trio and a welcome addition to their powerful volume of work.
Invisible Wisdom Reviews
All About Jazz
By Marc Medwin
The duo of Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas continues to be a potent one on this, the long-running Positive Knowledge collaboration’s release Invisible Wisdom. Recorded live at 2005’s Vision Festival, it’s a widely varied and ultimately rewarding set where the only problem is a slightly distant recording.
That understood, the music is some of the most visceral and exciting the group has committed to tape. Audience presence is doubtless a factor in giving the group the extra edge and every member of the group seems to be feeling it. Kidd Jordan plays like a man half his age and the duo of bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Michael Wimberley provide all manner of support, crushing when necessary, sublime and sensitive when required. “Vision Me” presents all facets of the group interplay in tiny but intense cycles, racing from pregnant space around Ijeoma’s words to blindingly intense scree and squall within seconds.
The importance of Bankhead and Wimberley’s contributions cannot be overstated; they are largely responsible for making the set what it is, the finest Positive Knowledge disc to date, driving even the resourceful Oluyemi to new heights of expression and creativity. This is a fine group, running on all cylinders, delivering a blistering set of classic “New Thing” to an appreciative crowd.
Live at the Blue Monk Reviews
By Chris Kelsey
Joel Futterman’s fists-of-fury pianism is the most interesting thing about this hard-core free-jazz trio, recorded live in performance at a Portland, Ore. jazz club. Joining the Virginia Beach-based pianist is Mississippi-born drummer Alvin Fielder and Bay Area saxophonist-bass clarinetist Ike Levin. The album is made up of two distinct, freely improvised sets—one short, one long—each arbitrarily divided into individual tracks without pause. Levin is an intense, expressive player. His asymmetrical phrasing and extensive use of pentatonic scales and melodies place him firmly under the ghostly wing of John Coltrane, circa 1967. Fielder does what he always does—colors the ensemble ingeniously and lights a fire under the other instrumentalists. Futterman displays the fast fingers, smarts and primal ferocity that make him one of the better post-Cecil Taylor pianists. His work is typically dense and harmonically obscure, though he plays lyrically in a modal bag for brief stretches. He also plays a decent, if unsubtle, soprano sax. The arc of the group’s performance rises and falls in nice proportion. All have compelling things to say, Futterman in particular. There are slack moments, as there tend to be in sets like this, but overall, this is an impressive accomplishment.
By Marc Medwin
Signal to Noise
By Jay Collins
By Tom Sekowski
Saxophonist / clarinettist Ike Levin doesn't nearly get the sort of attention his work calls for. Playing reed instruments for the last quarter of a century, this Chicago native has through the years played with people such as Fred Anderson, Joel Futterman, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman and countless others. His persistence on pushing the boundaries in hard-bop and free-jazz realms is commendable. With each release, his work tends to get stronger and feels like he's more fulfilled with his own self.
Recorded at Portland's Blue Monk, "Live at the Blue Monk" features the long standing trio of creative musical partners. Pianists / saxophonist Joel Futterman is joined by percussionist Alvin Fielder and saxophonist Ike Levin for a wicked live set of music. The disc is broken up into two sets which the band played that night. Even though Joel Futterman is at the helm at the piano, this isn't some sort of an abstract session. Even though he's striking those ivories with utter force and intricate abandon, there is a lot of melody and tunefulness throughout. Futterman is a highly skilled player, one who doesn't need an elaborate introduction. It's great to hear him go at length through key changes and ferocious strings of percussive abandon. Fielder is a perfect match in that he challenges Futterman to change pace and alter directions. The two play off one another in tandem. Ike Levin's tenor sets a ferocious tone on this live session. At times he's playing against Futterman's layered flute, while at others he's simply his own man, rallying wallows of thick tenor blasts. My only concern is that in moments, the trio gets so busy and so into what they're playing, the overload is tremendous, which makes it all the more difficult to peel away individual layers from the whole. Other than that, this is a very successful live session from a trio that continues to make top-notch records.
All About Jazz
January 2007, Vol. 4 No.12
By Peter Sanchez
Familiarity may breed contempt, but in the case of improvised music colossal Joel Futterman, his frequent collaborator-- drummer Alvin Fielder, and Bay Area reed virtuouso Ike Levin, familiarity also breeds a creativity dialogue that has been nurtured by the trio over the years. Live at the Blue Monk represents another moment in time, considerably fulfilling to listen to, but hardly a baramometer on where these adventuresome voices are currently. This two set recording is a journey—each original improvisation developing organically, obliterating any preconceptions. Their inventions stretch the boundaries and their fellowship is notable. It is Levin, however, who proves once more that he is a remarkable improviser, unjustly neglected amid critical circles. Levin, who studied under Fred Anderson, manages to get a tone from his tenor saxophone that would make the Chicago icon beam with pride. Live at the Blue Monk is another document in the extended discourse between three familiar souls. Based on this evening’s performance, may it continue in perpetuity.
by Murray Reams
Pianist and soprano saxophonist Joel Futterman and multi-reedman Ike
Levin proceed directly from the free jazz tradition often referred to as “energy music” that was pioneered by the innovative Cecil Taylor Units of the 1960’s. In fact, Futterman’s pianistic style is decidedly reminiscent of some of Taylor’s more spirited moments (minus Taylor’s more studied and classically-oriented approach.) That being said, this duo adheres to a freer overall aesthetic that expands on the tradition of Taylor and others while simultaneously paying homage to their ancestry. Like their predecessors, both these guys have highly developed jazz chops that allow them to push the limits of their respective instruments without abandoning formal considerations (a problem often encountered in many “freely improvised” settings.)
Although Futterman’s piano prowess is formidable, it is interesting that some of the highlights of this CD are provided as he abandons the keyboard to match Levin’s bass clarinet in spiraling duets that are evocative of the spirit of vintage Art Ensemble of Chicago (not surprising considering that Levin not only hails from the windy city but has studied with AACM co-founder Fred Anderson and Futterman has logged time playing with Art Ensemble member Joseph Jarman.) Don’t expect a continuous assault on the senses, however. Especially on the title track, Futterman and Levin revert to lyrical intervals that not only provide a brief respite from some of the more tumultuous tracks, but demonstrate their command of a wider vocabulary than that afforded by many of their contemporaries in this genre. If you were weaned (as I was) on this courageous form of jazz, this duo will provide some strong nourishment in an era grown accustomed to famine. If your tastes lean more to the inside, you may want to seek some historical context before venturing this far into the deep. For my part, I salute these talented veterans for unabashedly carrying the free jazz flame forward into the 21st century.
Vol. 32, NO. 7 July 2006
Free jazz man Joel Futterman teams up Ike Levin for a series of invigorating, exploratory duets that are also occasionally surprisingly traditional on Engima (Charles Lester Music 26-008). Futterman plays his usual piano and soprano saxophone while Ike Levin alternates between tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. Engineer Benjamin Tomassetti also chimes in on alto saxophone for three of the nine cuts. “Convergence” opens the album with Futterman railing helter skelter against his piano with frenetic keyboard runs and resounding clusters while Levin’s tenor saxophone blares flurries of raspy notes and hoarse cries. Futterman’s typically janunty angularity can be found the folksy march of the Ayleresque “Urbanscapes” and the albums titular epic twenty minute piece centerpiece. Levin blows furiously for the duration and Futterman hammers away in controlled simmering abandon. The pair generally gravitate toward more outre’ territory during the bulk of the set, but there are surprising detours into traditional fare as well. “Conciliation” is a short, but utterly conventional tenor and piano ballad and the closing tune “Assembly” finds all three men on their respective horns coiling through an abstracted round.
This CD contains gripping passages, bountiful energy, and somber moments of surprising delicacy. Enigma contains the sort of timeless free improvising one will want to have in their collection.
All About Jazz
June 2006 (Vol. 4 No. 5)
by Rex Butters
This most recent collaboration between spontaneous musicians, pianist Joel Futterman and reedman Ike Levin, finds them pushing the emphathic envelope to discover new, blazing soundscapes in which to ply their art. Futterman, a reclusive genius with an 8-10 hour a day rehearsal habit, displays staggering technique with unending idea production. Bay Area free music firebrand Ike Levin matches Futterman’s creative stamina to burn brightly and serve up a feast of musical fireworks on this hour long extravaganza.
Enigma opens with “Covergenece” and Futterman’s broiling piano work. Levin blows in on tenor, and the duo redefines “energy music.” Hand-scraped piano strings introduce “Wonder” with Levin sly and subtle on bass clarinet. Here restraint and understatement rule. “Discourse” features Futterman on soprano sax in a thoughtful call and response duo with Levin. The title track “Enigma,” at over twenty minutes plays like a suite with truly unexpected deviations. Levin back on tenor suggests Rollins here and there, while Futterman flashes lines on soprano while still playing piano. After a truly boggling array of variations, Futterman softly voices tonal chords with Levin following the unexpected trend. The intensity rebuilds and the music re-explodes. “Formations” includes guest Benjamin Tomassetti on alto sax. Futterman returns to soprano sax for an evolving woodwind trio where players echo, answer, and transcend on another. Tomasetti returns for “Riddelesque” and Futterman returns to piano. Each takes turns creating the melody, Futterman introducing a brief chorded interlude that comes apart to coda. “Conciliation” creates a haunting moment with the duo playing an introspective ballad. “Urbanscapes” gives Futterman time for a prickly opening statement before Levin strides in joining the pianist for some virtuoso jousting. “Assembly” gives a playful farewell from the reed trio.
These fearless adventurous musicians extend their string of remarkable recorded documents with Enigma confounding expectations except with their unswerving reliance on excellence.
First Ones Reviews
By Tom Sekowski
... Positive Knowledge is a San Francisco outfit that places as much emphasis on spoken word as it does on free and organic improvisations. The three core members are Oluyemi Thomas on clarinets, saxophones and various percussion, Ijeoma Thomas on vocals and percussion and Spirit on percussion. Joining them on "First Ones" is saxophonist Ike Levin, who also adds shades of percussion on a few of the tracks.
Their music is an organic sort of jazz, circa glory days of AACM. This is the Chicago sound transported to the West Coast. Seeing as how every single member plays percussion in one sense or another, it's easy to say the ensemble doesn't only dabble in percussion. In fact, they embrace percussion as something quite natural. It's in their blood. Heavy emphasis on gongs, talking drums, kalimba, shakers and other percussive varieties are heard all over this disc. Ijeoma Thomas recites some poetry on a few of the tracks but her moments of glory are heard when she's yelping syllables and phrases. Like some wild version of Linda Sharrock, she gulps, scats and yells her parts in utter abandon. The duo team of Oluyemi Thomas and Ike Levin are busy pouncing on the other two percussionists. The warmest moments come around when Thomas picks up his bass clarinet. Together with the wooden tone of Ike Levin's clarinet, they duel off of each other, taking turns at abandoned solos. Especially effective is the use of whistles on a few of the pieces. They're like a wake up call to other members of the band and signify a slight shift in direction to what the ensemble was playing the moment before. Whether this is the rebirth of the Art Ensemble sound or just a linear continuum of AACM's creative thoughts and ideals is an aside. What counts is this group continues on their quest to challenge the listener with creative music of the highest order.
Vol. 32, NO. 7, July 2006
First Ones is Oakland, CA based Positive Knowledge’s fifth disc. The personnel has shifted from disc to disc but the two Thomases have been the guiding force behind the music. And the music they make is one of the more successful mergers of poetry and free jazz. The reason for that is that Ijeoma pays as much attention to being an instrumentalist as well as a poet. She and Oluyemi seem to have worked out an almost telepathic approach to both improvising and accompanying. It’s a delicate balance that can be thrown out of kilter when a second horn is added to the mix. In this case, the second horn is Ike Levin. However, his sensitivity to and obvious knowledge of the group’s music makes his addition a positive one. His burly tenor complements Oluyemi’s arsenal with a “third” horn layer but in never sounds cluttered. He’s also given a solo piece of his own “Expression for Peace” that’s one of the disc’s high points. Drummer/percussionist Spirit has appeared on Positive Knowledge’s earlier recording Invocation #9 and his chattering omnipresent patter gives the music just the right forward momentum it needs.
The music traverses from intense four-way group improvisation to meditative calm. The sequence from the percussive concluding passages of “Crisis To Victory” through the opening of “Sea of Joy” which takes in some surprisingly sensitive shenai work is a particularly good example of the latter. Positive Knowledge occupies a unique place in the free jazz landscape and First Ones is a worthwhile addition to its growing discography.
All About Jazz
by Rex Butters
Live and on record, Oluyemi and Igeoma Thomas cover a lot of musical ground with their Positive Knowledge projects. First Ones continues that trend featuring the powerful reed player and the fearless vocalized word magic of Igeoma Thomas joining long time collaborator Spirit on percussion. Ike Levin comes aboard for this edition engaging Oluyemi in reed ripping exchanges.
“Unexplained Reality/Events at the Edge” opens with Ijeoma and the two horns improvising with Spirit’s playful understated clatter. As she commences her recitation, the horns heat up, all members feeding the momentum of passion. Shifting percussion usage under her solo voice leads to a bass clarinet/tenor duet that ends it. Levin goes from Kalimba to bass clarinet opposite Oluyemi on soprano saxophone for “Message of the Stones.” Igeoma soars with the horns, her meanings soaring higher. Levin and Oluyemi play bird song like chatter with swooping Igeoma vocals, ultimately resolving as a percussion piece. Percussion, kalimba, whistles, greet Igeoma on the title track stirring wordless vocal and inspired meditation on origins fleshing it out. With Levin on tenor and Oluyemi on C-melody, sparks fly on “SUMOTUWE.” Igeoma jumps in with “Sing sister, tell it in black.” and shredding vocalese. Spirit gets his own performance on “In the Center of the Boom,” while “Expression for Peace” gives Levin a soulful tenor spot. “Crisis to Victory” begins spinning through the speakers little instruments set the stage for Oluyemi’s thoughtful soprano. Igeoma improvises a duet with atmospheric percussion from Spirit. Levin brings his tenor for four way composition ending the piece with Spirit. Light percussion preludes Oluyemi’s soprano tour de force on “Sea of Joy” while Levin and Thomas blister each other on “Prayerful Devotion,” Igeoma providing a serene space on Kalimba.
Exponents of universalism and extended creativity, Positive Knowledge withholds nothing, playing music drenched in soul brilliance and joy.
Resolving Doors Reviews
by Jerome Wilson
(Resolving Doors) is a wild, old-fashioned free music blowout performed by the trio of Joel Futterman, Alvin Fielder, and Ike Levin, who all play together for the first time here. The opening "Spatial Odyssey" is the main "primal scream" piece of the set, the three wriggling, crashing, and bashing with relentless energy and focus. On "Opus de Impulse" Levin switches to bass clarinet for a prickly but much lighter duet with Futterman that is given added weight by Fielder's brushwork. For "Minds Eye" Futterman switches to soprano sax and gets a rich Arabian groove going with Levin. "Atmospherics" injects a touch of soul into the mixture and "Boundaryless Horizons" gets some Blues feeling into the melee through LEvin's fat and nasty horn sound. These three men listen to each other like they've been doing it for a long time.
Signal To Noise
By Nathan Turk
Joel Futterman is by many accounts a hermetic guy. He retreated from Chicago to the much slower environs of Virginia in the early 1970s after early-career burnout. But his piano and saxophone playing is beautifully extroverted on Resolving Doors, full of eloquent, sometimes scarily intense, conversation. Percussionist Alvin Fielder and saxophonist Ike Levin join him on this recording, the trio’s debut release together. The music is completely improvised, but swings with a sort of telepathic repartee, with Fielder and Levin tiptoeing across keys and modes, and Futterman probing their intents with call-and-response phrases that build and unify. When they hit on spontaneous melodies in “Boundaryless Horizon” and “Atmospherics,” it’s magical, like watching roughly-hewn sculptures rise from dissonant flux. But even atonal vamps such as “Opus de Impulse” swing in a cubist, angular way, as if spinning despite square wheels; there’s a sense of purpose in every swoop, ping and honk. As such, the disc rivals the work Fielder and Futterman have done with Kidd Jordan, or much earlier in the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, which Fielder helped co-found in the 1960s. (Levin’s father was a Chicago luminary, too, with his 1930s swing band; Levin named his label Charles Lester, after his dad’s stage name, in tribute.) Yet Futterman, whose appearances are always notable and never frequent enough, casts the brightest light here.
By Glenn Astarita
For those who entertain comparisons, saxophonist Ike Levin and pianist Joel Futterman – vigorously supported by drummer Alvin Fielder – may fit somewhere in between the Cecil Taylor Unit and latter day Coltrane. Add to that, the trio’s synergy cannot be underestimated, throughout these largely; riveting progressive/free-jazz works.
On the piece titled “Opus de Impulse,” Levin, performing on bass clarinet, mimics Futterman’s lower register voicings, amid hints of balladry. Futterman multitasks on occasion by picking up his soprano sax while toggling back to the piano; thus, conveying a sense of quartet interplay, supported by Fielder’s thrusting rhythms. Essentially, the soloists’ weave in and out of various thematic forays, spiced up with heaps and bounds of intuitive dialogues and sub-plots. And while the band explores the freer spectrum of matters, there’s a pronounced cohesiveness that accentuates the preponderance of this outing. They pull out the stops during “Atmospheres,” where Levin’s plaintive cries are counterbalanced and firmed up by Futterman and Fielder’s swarming undercurrents. Ultimately, the band seems to abide by a manifesto that lends itself to making contact with a higher being. (Recommended…)
One Final Note
by Dan Rose
I first experienced Joel Futterman’s music in a dingy New Orleans club. Not sure what to expect, but with Kidd Jordan and William Parker on the same stage, I had inklings. I hoped all those musty museum sounds and necrophilic stylings of the typical tourist trap were out of range. Disappointment and I did not meet that night. The whole set was a rolling, suspended explosion, with Jordan shooting sparks, Parker plucking a serpentine backbone, and Futterman pounding the keys like he wanted the thing to die. My second exposure comes in the form of Futterman’s (on piano and soprano saxophone) new trio session with Ike Levin on reeds and Alvin Fielder on percussion, titled, with a bit of sadist wit, Resolving Doors.
Though nowhere near as relentless as my live experience, this album provides little in the way of melodic resolution or easy listening. This is a free jazz date, with all dialogue spontaneous and, even when quiet, intense. The first track is probably the fiercest, with Futterman using the piano as percussion, providing a bedrock mixed with Fielder’s rattlings, upon which Levin scrabbles sonic lines. There’s a moment when a lyricism shines through and space opens up, a little like a ray of sunshine during a storm. This provides color and contrast, making the proceedings seem even more breathless.
The second track begins as a duet between Futterman on piano and Levin on bass clarinet. Gone is the piano as tuned drum; instead, Futterman creates a spacious lyricism. Levin winds through the pianisms, sometimes answering in call and response or just floating above. Right before Fielder enters, still preserving the space even as the music moves to a trio, Futterman and Levin meet in what sounds like a snippet from some lost Coltrane spiritual.
On the third track, it’s Futterman on soprano and Fielder’s drums that lead things off. The two listen deeply, with Futterman spinning a few telegraphic, melodic phrases while Fielder beats a tribal rhythm. When Levin joins on tenor, tension builds as the two reeds swirl upwards, moving higher in register and intensity. What develops is a holy, holy interaction, like two street preachers feeling The Spirit. When Futterman takes to the piano, he makes a rumble under Levin’s gospelizing (the sound of the devil asking for dues?), with another Coltrane spiritual moment surfacing before the three wind down.
Fielder starts off the fourth track with staccato percussion, Levin and Futterman (again on soprano sax) dancing close behind. Levin falls out for a bit, leaving drums and soprano to duet. Fielder creates a dancing rhythm, almost march-like, while Futterman worries notes from his instrument. Levin takes the stage as Futterman falls back to piano, Fielder’s dancing moves to a more strident pulse, and the tension increases, never resolving but always in constant dialogue.
The fifth track is a short musical narrative, almost like Raymond Carver rendered in sound. In many ways the most satisfying piece, it consists of an intimate dialogue of piano and drums. Futterman seems to be exploring the range of sounds produced by striking the keys, sometimes percussive, sometimes notes left hanging in space but remarkably engaging. The piece ends with a beautiful melodic phrase delivered with a breathtaking assurance and agility. The thing is a Zen koan.
The final track almost falls within the traditional parameters of jazz (but still far from the museum). Fielder keeps a swinging pulse while Futterman and Levin entwine. There’s a keen sense of listening and response to this one. The intensity that emerges from the three voices seems a natural consequence of deep listening. There’s a really wonderful point in which Futterman makes his piano sound like thunder and Levin responds to the ominous with a tender lyricism. Futterman brings it all to a close with a muted rumble.
Much to love on this collection: These are three highly skilled and intimately connected improvisers. Even at its most chaotic and daunting, the music is belied by an unfolding dialogue and mutual movement. It continually moves, motivated by a restlessness and three-way conversation. If there are any minuses to be found, I’d say it’s in those near thematic moments of lyricism. This listener was left wanting more. Perish the thought, but what could these three do with a standard, what sounds would unfold as they deconstructed a tune and opened up all the possibilities? The completely free dialogues cataloged here with their hints of lyricism, wonderful though they are, make the ears water for an entire serving of nothing but. Now that would clear the cobwebs from a museum piece—and maybe even raise the dead.
By Dick Metcalf
As is so often true with CD's we've reviewed previously that have Joel & Ike on them, this is straight-ahead (& rockin') improv! I don't remember hearing Fielder before, but his drumming is superb! The opening track "Spatial Odyssey, has Futterman & Levin heading right off into "outland". Joel's piano on the intro reminds me a great deal of another improv pianist I love, Greg Goodman... all up/down/around th' keyboard. Levin's tenor is no less intense, & he is playing at full bore! "Third Ear", a much shorter cut ( 3:38 ) than all the others is very nice, but it is track 4, "Atmospherics", that scores th' highest for my ears. While none of these spontaneous creations can be called "calm", this one fuses all the elements of good improv together, & the players seem totally conscious of where they "are at" (sonically) in respect to each other. The recording is excellent, capturing every little nook & cranny of sound they explore together. I strongly recommend headphones for the first couple of listens... keep it uninterrupted, you'll be glad you did! The "revolving door" theme will be evident throughout... constant movement, different views of the "drum & drummer", every sonic second. This is one of the best jazz improv CD's we've heard this year... it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of "fluid jazz" around the planet!
at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 Reviews
The Tampere Jazz Happening has become one of the most prominent festivals fro the presentation of creative improvised music. Reports from the Festival consistently emphasize the enthusiasm generated by the one-of-a-kind interactions that thrive in the spirit of the now. With such aims in mind this trio crates lively, jarring, and moving music. As with each release including pianist Joel Futterman, his charismatic musical personality, whether walking the tightrope, scurrying over the keys or sending out blocks of cascading chord structures, is simply captivating. He is also a talented reedist that expands the range of any participating ensemble. Paring him with the hammerhead tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan and the adept and profound percussion of Alvin Fielder is a recipe for top-shelf improvised music. Fortunately, they do live up to their collective reputations for a program of vigor and unpredictability.
The proceedings begin with an 18 minute foray that starts calmly, as a spacious interaction that emphasizes a brooding mysticism. Eventually, Futterman's rolling piano tones and Fielder's spirited percussion swirl brightly, as Jordan bounces and rolls with Fielder and Futterman's accentuated phrases. The glistening chords do emerge around the eight and a half minute mark before the musicians once again soar, as if to say, "don't get too comfortable." After a brief respite, the second tract presents Futterman on soprano, engaging Jordan for a little tête-à-tête before he slinks back to his piano chair, dancing alongside Fielder's mallet-work The fervor rises again, eventually resulting in a few moments of bluesy spirituality before a drum/soprano duet. This break allows Jordan a few moments to catch his breath before he delivers his ultimate statements, particularly on the final track. As the piece begins with Fielder on brushes and Futterman's skittish, dusky flights, Jordan enters and pulls the troops behind him, as he throws out a Swing lick ostinato / bar-walkin' jive that rallies the others to his level, taking the performance out, much to the crowd's delight. In fact, once the race has ended he exclaims, "I'm no longer a younger man, where were y'all 25 years ago?" With that, the trio begins its encore, initially starting out as a soulful ballad and later, the pace quickens to a level of determined energy in a way that these musicians can appreciate.
At over sixty minutes, broken into five parts and an encore, this recording of the entire concert may leave one fatigued over the lon... However, it is certainly worth checking on... have the stamina or are already a fan of the ... -mous talents. Ja...
Signal to Noise
Live at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 captures Jordan collaborating at the Swiss event with two fine foils: pianist Joel Futterman and (once again) drummer Alvin Fielder. The trio starts out subtly, Fielder plays some pianissimo percussion while Futterman tries out florid flute arpeggios. But once Futterman moves to piano, it's on! The pianist uses windmill fists of clusters to spur Jordan into some really hard blowing (and over-blowing), while Fielder punctuates and pulsates with vibrant abandon. Although the digressive introductions, questing in their sonic explorations, are enjoyable, what is most startling is the group's ability to play full tilt so much of the time; a testament to muscular, lung, and inspirational capacities. - Christian Carey
13 May 2004
by David Dupont
A few minutes into this live set by Kidd Jordan, Joel Futterman
and Alvin Fielder I was left wondering just where this music
could go. Jordan was already in searing overblown mode against
the pounding surf of Futterman's piano while Fielder slashed
behind them on drums. Within 10 minutes, the trio seemed
to have reached the apogee of free energy playing. Yet through
craft and inspiration they carried on for over 45 minutes
more of invigorating blowing, adding more of the same in
a ten-minute encore.
This is the kind of session where the drum solo provides
most of the quieter moments. Such high-energy free performances
inevitably lose something in the translation to disc. No
recording, no matter how good, can quite capture that sense
of being lifted by the music's reverberation. And this is
a quality recording, though the drums lose clarity. But
what it does allow is a chance for one to listen several
times and reflect on how these three journeymen free blowers
accomplish such musical levitation.
The main part of the performance is one hour-long composition
divided over five tracks with the movements marked by where
the audience responded, giving it a part in the composition
of the piece. Futterman opens the proceedings with some
evocative wood flute as Fielder provides light cymbal splashes.
Before long though, Jordan has fanned the flames into a
conflagration. Such intensity would certainly grow wearying
after a time, but the trio knows when to back off. Jordan
will toss out a blues figure now and then, and Futterman,
who has built a distinctive style on the foundation laid
by Cecil Taylor, punctuates changes in moods with rolling,
ringing modal chords that contrast with the atonal darts
and squiggles of most of his work. These references to more
vernacular jazz serve to keep the music grounded for the
listener. Jordan and Futterman also bat ideas off each other
at times, as seen in their trading of percussive jabs to
open the fourth section.
Late in the performance the audience greets a Jordan blues
phrase with rousing applause; Jordan responds by asking
where they were when he was 25. Then in the final 10 minutes,
he makes a moot point of his rhetorical question by showing
just how much energy a trio, including two elder statesmen,
can truly generate.
All About Jazz
by Kurt Gottschalk
The digital revolution has been kind to some of jazzs
unsung elders, and Edward Kidd Jordan is tops
among them. Small labels around the world are capturing
and digitizing players who might not otherwise be gracing
stereos, much less playing festivals, away from their native
Jordan is the real deal, a fiery tenor player straight out
of the 60s New Thing. Much of his work is with two
standing groups with connections to both Chicago and the
south: a quartet with Fred Anderson (another senior statesman
finally getting his due), William Parker and Hamid Drake;
and a trio with Joel Futterman and Alvin Fielder, both of
whomlike Anderson and Drakehave connections
with Chicagos AACM. The former is an all-out, all-star
northern riot (Parkers a Bronx boy and Anderson and
Drake both hail from Louisiana but make their home in Chicago),
the latter is pure Deep South. Fielder returned home to
Mississippi after some time in Chicago and Futterman was
born in the Windy City but makes his bed in Virginia. Jordan
himself is a Nawlins man. While its the northern
quartet that wins the acclaim, the southern trio is where
Jordan sounds most at home. They play hard, but in a hot
afternoonnot a big city nightclubkind of way.
Live at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 is the fourth release
by the trio. On previous outingsand under various
namestheyve been joined by bassists Parker and
Elton Heron, but here they stick to the three-piece like
old friends. The disc is divided into six tracks plus an
encore, but it comes off like one long jam. Futterman spends
more time at the keyboard than on previous discs, which
is welcome; his piano playing is far more pleasing than
his sometimes shrill soprano sax. Fielder is relaxed but
ever present and Jordan, as always, is incisive and exciting.
Unfortunately, however, much of the energy gets lost to
thin sound quality, and the trio has yet to make a definitive
record (Southern Extreme and New Orleans Rising, however,
come closer). At this point, its understood that theyre
good. They dont need another demo and its time
for the trio to hit the studio, or at least bring a devoted
engineer into a small club rather than releasing festival
sets. They deserve more than just another document.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York.
The Kidd Jordan/Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder Trio works in what might be called the free-jazz mainstream - in other words, they get together and blow, making it up as they go along. While the concept is nothing special, the results can be - as the trio proves on Live at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 (Charles Lester Music). Tenor Saxophonist Kidd Jordan is a textural player (meaning he plays fast, dude), somewhat remindful of Coltrane yet distinguished by a burly tone and lissome phrasing. Pianist Joel Futterman is speedy, too, a hyperactive improviser who throws everything into the pot, avoiding tonality at all costs. He's an excellent player, and, like Jordan, he's definitely got his own thing. Drummer Alvin Fielder is one of the most imaginative free-jazz drummers, adept at weaving an intricately designed, free-time web. Together these guys build something fantastic out of thin air, a set of untitled, unplanned, spontaneously conceived miniatures. So tight an explosive is this music, one might expect that these gentlemen play together more often than they probably do. A jazz happening, indeed.
Live at the Noe Valley Ministry Reviews
Also lovely, in a quite different way, are the trio improvisations
of (4), which speak from later incarnations of the Jazz
tradition. While Joel Futterman's post-Cecil Taylor piano
playing strikes me as more efficient than inspired, he is
a consistently fine organizer of ensembles. His trio with
saxophonist / clarinetist Ike Levin and cellist Kash Killion,
heard here in two complete sets of a 2002 performance, buzzes
with creative energy.
Each player's doubling of instruments lends sonic variety
to the trio. Killion's cello locks in with Futterman's piano
for articulate scratchings and scrapings, and his serangi,
featured in the extended second-set opening, goes way beyond
the realm of exoticism conveying an Ayler-esque sadness.
Futterman brings both soprano sax and wooden flute to the
table, allowing for dual, fluttering tongue action, as he
and Levin nudge their lines along over Killion's cello support.
Levin's full-bodied tone, on both tenor sax and bass clarinet,
gives the trio a sound as rich as dark chocolate. Although
the agitated peaks of the trio's improvisations are fully
in line with the free Jazz tradition of sunspot activity,
their many valleys frequently shade over with reflective,
restful interludes that distinguish their work
by Steven Loewy
3 ½ stars (excellent)
This is a less intense session than usual for Futterman,
but by the time of this recording the pianist (and multi-instrumentalist)
had been performing regularly with saxophonist Ike Levin
and the synergy is evident. Those familiar with Futtermans
spectacular technique will not be disappointed as there
is not a trace of commercialism in his playing. Rather,
the trio waxes freely over six totally improvised tracks,
along the way exploring crevices and cracks, and building
and diminishing the sounds. Bassist Kash Killion contributes
an effective bottom, while his chanting, particularly on
Track 5 and Track 6, adds to the
energetic crescendos. His bass solos, while not as dramatic
as those of his companions, nonetheless fit well with the
mood. Ike Levin spurts in-and-out of Futtermans spaces,
and the saxophonists solo improvisations impress with
their emotionalism. Levins big Texas sound is filtered
by the lens of post-modernism, but there is a lyricism,
too, inherent in his playing reminiscent of the great swing
and early bop soloists. While there are plenty of moments
of hard rigorous blowing the album is characterized by close
listening by the musicians and lots of nuanced interaction,
in which collective improvisation is in the forefront. Futterman
and Levin fans should be pleased
All About Jazz
by Frank Rubolino
On their initial 2001 trio recording (Lifeline, Bay
Records), Joel Futterman, Ike Levin, and Kash Killion demonstrated
their comprehension of the interpersonal requirements for
constructing music of complexity and artistic integrity.
This follow-up expands on the parameters of spontaneous
communication so skillfully honed on their first joint venture.
Performed in concert at a West Coast venue, the music captures
the immediacy of the moment and the trio's responsiveness
to the collective vibrations.
The three merge as one body in this environment, flowing
swiftly down surging rushes of white water while deftly
manning the vessel. Still, individual creativity surfaces
vividly. Futterman synthesizes a highly refined directional
sense with his innate ability to generate quality improvisations
of depth and comprehensible logic. He worms his way deeply
into the essence of the piano keys, spinning out extended
sequences that rise in intensity and gradually recede in
satisfying release. His oar is the navigational substance
of the music; through his instinctive sonar system, he negotiates
the rapids and steers the boat with subtle movements of
Futterman is a multifaceted talent. He adeptly switches
to Indian wooden flute to alter the mood, or he becomes
vociferous in expelling brisk streams of energy through
his curved soprano saxophone. These variations add enormously
to the texture of the set, making the totality of this trio
a coat of many musical colors.
As co-captain of this super craft, Levin takes the wheel
to introduce demanding improvisations. Alternating between
tenor and bass clarinet, he binds his freely constructed
thought processes to the marrow of Futtermans gushing
releases. Levin speaks authoritatively on tenor, although
his output has soothing consistency and connectivity. Freeform
phrases erupt convincingly from his horn, only to be calmed
by ensuing gentle currents of melodiousness.
When Levin plays bass clarinet, he speaks in similarly commanding
terms but with softened edges to add melodic substance to
the freewheeling scenario. Challenging issues emerge when
Levin and Futterman duel on tenor and soprano. The horns
sing out joyously during these interlaced encounters.
The dimensions of this music are greatly enhanced by Kash
Killions input. Whether on cello or bass, arco or
pizzicato, he builds strong undercurrents to keep the ship
afloat. On Tune 4, Killion inserts an additional
component by speaking in Eastern terms through the sarangi,
a traditional string instrument from India. Levin muses
mystically on bass clarinet in concert with these exotic
sounds while Futterman maintains a stanch posture.
As deduced by the song titles, the performance was instantly
composed. The trios music streams in a continuous
flood of invention. While certain segments, like Track
6, deliver short parcels of staccato interplay, the
music always catches an ongoing wave, surging powerfully
forward with grace and agility. These three musicians are
in accord with all the erupting impulses, allowing stimulating
music of weighty proportions to emerge.
by Ted Kane
Review: LifeLine is nothing if not intense, a seventy-odd
minute exploration of the nooks and crannies of jazz. The
opener "Paradox" begins with a Cecil Taylor-esque
discursion around the piano keyboard by Joel Futterman,
seemingly stating no theme at all. But as cellist Kash Killion
and tenorman Ike Levin come in and follow him perfectly,
the composition's structure is revealed alongside a well-honed
sense of telepathy between the trio mates.
Kash Killion's cello is a very supple instrument. Sometimes
it swirls around the music, sometimes it anchors it like
a contrabass. Killion also contributes on African wooden
whistle. The second track, "Choices," finds all
three musicians on secondary instruments at the onset. Futterman
plays a line on soprano saxophone that Levin underscores
with hand percussion. Killion's whistle responds and they
briefly engage in a birdsong conversation a la Anthony Braxton
and Sam Rivers before taking their regular places.
The aptly named "Questions " is, at twenty-six
minutes, the album's centerpiece. Futterman opens with somewhat
traditional chords before the music opens up to allow each
of the players a chance to pose and respond to a variety
of musical concerns. These three players constitute a formidable
jazz chamber ensemble, whose explorations should appeal
to fans of improvisational music in the traditions of Eric
Dolphy, Sam Rivers and the musicians of the AACM.
Vol. 28, No. 11 November, 2002
by Nate Dorward
Pianist Joel Futterman and reedsman Ike Levin are both
Chicago natives, but now reside (respectively) in Virginia
and the San Francisco Bay Area; they've worked and recorded
frequently together. Futterman's specialty is his impressively
fast and busy post-Taylor piano technique. His playing can
be a bit cluttered and jittery in its reliance on the rapid
repetition of patterns, but its often undeniably exciting.
Levin, a former student of Joe Daley and Fred Anderson,
is an especially intriguing player and something of a contrast
to Futterman. Sparing in the use of expressionist over-blowing,
he's instead an incisive melodist whose lines are so firmly
delineated that even Futterman's waves of sound can't wash
LifeLine consists of five completely free improvisations,
performed in tribute to "artist, philosopher, poet,
and master listener, Joseph Schwartzbaum" (whose painting,
alas, makes for one of the most unsightly Jazz-album covers
in recent memory). There are some dead spots in the episodic
longer pieces, but all of the tracks turn out quite worthwhile
music. The quieter and more spacious moments often entice
Futterman into drawing on a Bop or modal Jazz bag momentarily,
such as in the lovely opening minutes of "Questions."
Perhaps the best piece is "Now & Hear," an
untypically minimalist trio dialogue. The choice of the
excellent Killion's cello in lieu of a bass is a nice touch,
giving the music a welcome color and lyricism even its more
fire breathing episodes.
by Glenn Astarita
Tenor saxophonist Ike Levin and pianist Joel Futterman
make for an undeniably potent duo, evidenced by previous
releases. Moving forward, the twosome augments its attack
with cellist and African Wooden Whistle performer, Kash
Killion on this newly issued outing.
With the opener Paradox, the musicians express
themselves with the veracity and force of a rumbling freight
train, due to a series of cyclical cadenzas and emotive
interactions. They engage in some downright verbose dialogue
during Choices where Futterman picks
up his curved sax, while simultaneously banging out accenting
chords on his acoustic piano. Here and throughout, the trio
minces swarthy undercurrents with soulful opuses while also
raising a bit of cane when required. Its all about
joyful improvisational sequences augmented by a plethora
of mini-motifs and expansive diatribes. On Forever,
Levin executes a rapid-fire attack while Futterman counters
with abstract implementations of stride piano amid fleet
fingered soloing. As Killion plucks and bows his cello into
submission, yet maintains a swarming undercurrent for his
band mates. Killion handles the bass parts, but also spurs
the soloists into various rhythmic movements. Hence, Levin
and Futterman continue to inject a vibrantly fresh perspective
into the sometimes-staid modern jazz/free improv arena.
(A strong outing!)
by Jennifer Kelly
Free jazz must be a lot of fun to play. You can almost
hear these three seasoned improvisers -- pianist Joel Futterman,
reed player Ike Levin and cellist Kash Killion -- grin through
the explosion of notes that make up LifeLine. They toss
musical ideas and note patterns around like a hot potato,
and the last man holding is out.
All right, say it's a blast...for them. What about you,
with your limited time and record-buying cash? Is there
any reason to slap down your ten (or more) for over an hour
of extended experimentation? Well, in a crazy way, yes.
Just listening to the scrambling tenor and soprano sax duel
in "Choices", thwacked into some kind of loose
rhythm by plucked cello, will make you feel as if you're
improvising, too. Just keeping up with it, processing it,
thinking about it, seems like a musical act in itself. It's
hard, like second term calculus when you slept through most
of first term, but exhilarating.
You don't get to hear much jazz cello in the ordinary course
of things, and after this record, you may wonder why. The
cello naturally offers a whole palette of textures, from
rough scrape to resonant purr to pizzicato plonk. Kash Killion
alternates between the smooth, nearly human sound his instrument
can make, and a hoarse, questioning rasp. He goes fast and
slow. He smacks the wood in his exuberance. When he is tired
of the cello's boundless possibilities, he switches to African
wooden whistle, which isn't on any Basie records either.
The cello was the new, new thing for me. It adds an interesting
texture to the more familiar sounds of piano/sax dialogue
-- not that those elements are weak in any way. Futterman,
who mainly plays piano, but occasionally trades for a curved
soprano saxophone or a wooden Indian flute, has a fast,
light touch that blends well with the cascading notes that
pour from Levin's tenor sax. There is often a half-heard
pause between phrases, an infinitesimal moment when the
Levin and Killion hear what Futterman is doing and consider
their responses. It's like a conversation, full of interruptions
and sudden flights into abstraction.
The trio knows when to back off, too, and in many ways the
album's most beautiful moments are the quiet ones -- the
sudden lull in "Questions" before Futterman begins
sweeping up and down the keys and Levin starts emotive bleats.
Or later, at the same track's 15 minute mark, when the pauses
between sax tones and single piano notes grow longer and
People who like improvised music often throw around words
like "instinctive" and "telepathic."
I think it's simpler than that. I think the musicians just
intensely, actively listen to each other. We can't all play
the piano or sax or cello, but maybe we can get a little
sense of what this might feel like by listening hard to
records like LifeLine.
Issue #11 Features
by Achim Fassbender
According to C.G. Jung, there is no right or wrong;
there is only 'what makes sense' and 'non-sense.' These
two CDs by Virginia-based Joel Futterman and Californian
Ike Levin, plus fellow Californian Kash Killion on LifeLine,
make a lot of sense. There is this instant, affirmative
feeling when they take the listener right in, as if there
had never been a beginning or an end. Sort of like a roller
coaster ride that starts right on top and lasts about an
hour. Having listened to many artists in this genre, I would
say this is a rather rare thing to happen.
Futterman has been recording since the 1970s. I am not overly
familiar with his work, except for an outing on Drimala
Records where he played in a trio context with Kidd Jordan
and Alvin Fielder. These two excellent CDs will change that.
They are a very pleasant discovery within the context of
freely improvised music. Hearing musicians mainly on piano
and saxophone plus various other instruments is neither
new nor ground breaking. What is new is the total outcome
of the musical interactions, in fact so new that I at first
could not come up with any comparison. The constant, underlying
gentle intensity, the roaming around, the joyful bounces
these guys take, the chasing of each other, the call and
response interplay, the eruptions, the sudden stops and
back to the continuity of flow, the richness of sound -
which by the way is meticulously recorded and balanced (it's
great to hear that cello so clearly) - the cohesiveness,
all come together and MAKE SENSE.
We are treated to 13 different songs on The Present Gift
and five on LifeLine. They come across as parts of a larger
story. Similar to author Milan Kundera's works, who wrote
his books in the same way Beethoven composed his sonatas,
these tunes are part of a whole. Consequently, when the
instrumentation changes with almost every song, the listener
is captured, wanting to know what is next. The three musicians
play eight instruments in total, and the combination factor
is increased further through Futterman playing piano and
curved soprano sax at the same time on some occasions. On
The Present Gift, for example, piano and tenor start the
proceedings, followed by bass clarinet and soprano; tenor
and soprano; then flute, piano and bass clarinet; back to
piano and tenor; and so on. The mood changes are subtle
and usually short, mostly followed or back to the gentle
torrential undercurrent of free outbursts. After several
listenings, it finally dawned on me that Futterman's style
could be described as the synthesis of Cecil Taylor and
Ran Blake. An appropriate word to describe this unusual
combination of styles is chiaroscuro. While Blake is the
proponent for darker moods, Taylor is the lighter, more
eruptive one. This in itself creates huge dynamic ranges
with lots of climactic and anticlimactic episodes.
Ike Levin is new to me. What strikes me most about his playing
is its directness. He does not use a large arsenal of saxophone
techniques. Instead, it all comes down to the choices of
notes he plays. And once again, it just seems to MAKE SENSE.
It fits! Fairly torrid on tenor, and darker and mellower
on bass clarinet, he matches Futterman's chiaroscuro musings
well. It becomes obvious that these two players know each
other inside out. The ability to listen and respond to each
other fuses them into one large sound.
On LifeLine, cellist Kash Killion augments the duo. The
cello is not an instrument used frequently in free improvisation,
but it adds not only interesting colorings to the musical
happenings but also some rhythmic drive. I was particularly
impressed with Killion's bowed passages. In some parts he
makes the cello sound like a violin; in others he saws so
fast that it matches Futterman's quick runs on the piano
and adds prominently to the swirl of sounds. In the slower,
sometimes even romantic passages, the clarity of the pizzicato
notes from the cello mesh extremely well with Futterman's
Essentially these two CDs could be one, and it will be very
interesting to see where these lads take the music the next
time they record. One can only hope that more people will
discover these gems.
Issue # 57 REVIEWS
by Rotcod Zzaj
We've reviewed Joel & Ike quite frequently of late
(issue # 47 and # 52). This CD (as you can see from the
listing) features cello by Kash Killion. Some of the most
straight-ahead improvised music you'll ever have the pleasure
of listening to. Futterman's keyboards are all over the
spectrum, both in lead & layback mode. Levin's reeds/percussion
weave pictures for your ears both manic and musing. Killion's
cello (& African whistles) are brilliant, vibrantly
alive & not obscured in any way by the other players.
It is a total trio, in the sense of freedom as well as energy!
Listeners unaccustomed to freestyle will find a definite
challenge in "Lifeline", but it's worth the investment.
Folks like me, who eat/sleep/breathe improv, will hear nuances
never experienced. Killion's African whistles are a new
element, contrasting very nicely on "Choices",
the 2nd cut, with the reeds! The recording is excellent,
capturing every nook/cranny of the sonics. One thing that
can (often) be said about improvised music(s) like this
is that they often come across with no sense of beginning/ending...
not true on "Lifeline"; though the rushes are
still there, you will hear clear compositions that come
back around! Adventurists everywhere will WANT this one
for their collection... it gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
& the "PICK" of this issue for "most
The Present Gift Reviews
Vol. 28 No. 11, November 2002
By Jay Collins
The Present Gift is the second collaboration between
saxophonist Ike Levin and pianist/saxophonist Joel Futterman,
the previous being a trio setting with bassist Randall Hunt
(InterView). This recording is a collection of thirteen
freely improvised tracks that brim with passion and diversity.
While the majority of the performances are challenging moments
of driving, stimulating energy, there are a surprising number
of brief passages of melodic inventiveness. It is this unpredictable
dynamic that makes this record so compelling. In fact, these
brief melodic passages sneak up on the listener, almost
as a hint to the listener that they better be paying attention.
Both Futterman and Levin are underrated performers on the
creative music scene and listening to this performance reinforces
the idea that these improvisers are fitting peers on an
equal playing field. Futterman has incredible piano technique,
perhaps due to his rumored practice technique of 25 years,
namely a schedule of 8-10 hours a day of rigorous training.
The Cecil Taylor influence looms large, but merely calling
Futterman jus an acolyte would be way off the mark. He is
not as radical as Taylor, although he still possesses an
amazingly athletic approach to the piano, from percussive
dances to energetic attacks to wildly vigorous left hand
runs. Despite having several traits in common with Taylor,
it is the harmonic segments that demonstrate the incredible
beauty inherent in these collaborations and his ability
to tease these motifs out of complex improvisations (for
example, "The Present," "Arrival," and
"Eternal"). In addition to his incredible piano
technique, Futterman is a valuable utility hitter, adding
curved soprano saxophone and the Indian wooden flute to
his arsenal. Levin mostly sticks to tenor saxophone here,
employing a hardy, brawny tone. His melodic, passionate
approach take its lead from John Coltrane, perhaps best
exemplified on the album's opening track, "Night Owl."
Levin's approach is certainly edgy, but not in an aggressive
or assaultive manner consisting of shrill or undisciplined
overblowing. Rather, his statements consist of silvery lines
that weave through and around Futterman's rich piano tapestries.
His statements consist of controlled patterns of notes that
powerful but never reckless.
The music here is comprised of expressionistic performances
filled with cascades of notes and an active call and response
between these two musicians, whether Futterman is playing
piano or horn. It is a constant tug of war, not a battle,
but a quest to balance each other's vision as they meet
the demands of each performance. Another plus is that the
improvisations are generally of a shorter length, allowing
for concise statements and little wiggle room for overly
self-indulgent or unfocused ramblings. While the piano/saxophone
duets are exhilarating, the horn duets are the particular
highlights of the disc. These two voices create a mutual
exploration of sonic boundaries, best demonstrated on "Respite,"
" Horizon," "Arrival," and "The
Present." Both musicians also cite world influences
throughout, in particular on the track "Dream,"
featuring Levin's kalimba.
This is a challenging set of two vibrant forces exploring
a wide terrain of sounds, approaches, and moods. It is obvious
that the musicians are not the only ones who will be challenged
by this fine document.
by George Zahora
With The Present Gift, Futterman (piano) and Ike Levin
(tenor sax) offer another timely reminder that improvised
music need not be rambling, non-musical drivel. The duo's
second collaboration is a series of spontaneously-created
dialogues -- and, to extend the metaphor, "arguments"
-- between their instruments, imbued with the musicians'
own energy, emotion and intuition. Their musical conversations
go far beyond simple call and response, as evidenced by
"Remembering"'s heated, overlapping, often cross-purposed
exchanges, which cycle rapidly through a broad range of
emotions. Futterman's innovative style leaves room for him
to create familiar, jazzy foundations and to indulge in
wildly skittish, finger-stretching keyboard walkabouts.
"Night Owl", the disc's opener, is a veritable
tour-de-force for his mountain goat-style finger acrobatics;
you'll hear him create everything from scuttling, rodential
runs to an ominous, resonant thunderhead, churning away
at the deep end of the piano keyboard. Levin, meanwhile,
is no slouch -- his tenor sax work ranges from smoky, sensual
leads to the sort of manic, balls-out skronk action that's
been paying John Zorn's rent for years.
The quality and variety demonstrated in these improvisations
is a testament not only to the artists' skill, but to their
ability to work together. Whereas most improvisational groups
cling to the safety net of structure, and build their compositions
around a formalized central figure, Futterman and Levin
seem happy to fire and forget; their pieces are distinctly
non-linear, non-repetitive journeys rather than five-minute
explorations of musical cul-de-sacs.
To keep their sound varied, both musicians fall back on
secondary voices: Futterman also plays curved soprano sax
and and Indian flute, and Levin occasionally picks up a
bass clarinet and a kalimba. But trust me, you won't get
bored with their primary instruments.
by Glenn Astarita
This release represents a follow up to the artists
2000 trio effort featuring bassist, Randall Hunt. With this
outing we find saxophonist, Ike Levin, and pianist/saxophonist,
Joel Futterman enjoying a discernible comfort zone via their
often-emotive call and response type exchanges and adventurous
fabrications. Moreover, this production sports extraordinary
sonic characteristics, where every subtlety and nuance shines
through in crystalline splendor.
Known as a versatile avant-garde jazz pianist, whose Cecil
Taylor influences cannot be underestimated, Joel Futterman
also performs on the curved soprano saxophone, while utilizing
a wooden Indian flute on, Arrival. Futtermans
multitasking abilities surface on more than one occasion.
At times, he toggles between piano and curved saxophone
as the instrumentalists frequently take turns commandeering
the various storylines.
They taper the proceedings down in spots, while Levins
muscular attack and breezy lines complements Futtermans
circuitous developments. On The Gift, Futterman
lays down a lower register ostinato groove amid Levins
darting choruses and animated inflections. Here, lucid imagery
abounds as the twosome subsidizes all of the excitement
via a series of spontaneously rendered micro-themes. Recommended.
by Steven Loewy
THE PRESENT GIFT 3½ stars : The sax/ piano duo
has often been a favored vehicle for free jazzers, and in
the hands of Joel Futterman and Ike Levin, it leads to invigorating
results. The two are a good match: expressive performers
comfortable with the genre and vocabulary of free improvisation,
who rarely, if ever, succumb to clichés. While Futterman
frenetic clusters and reflective moments are a good foil
for Levin's hard-nosed, hot tenor. The generally short tracks
work to the group's advantage, keeping the listener somewhat
off-guard, Futterman supplementing his piano with curved
soprano sax and flute, and Levin countering with an arsenal
of tenor sax, bass clarinet, and kalimba. Those who think
of Futterman in terms of pure energy may be surprised at
what a lyrical player he can be. While this album hardly
represents a shift in direction for this extraordinary and
underrated improviser, it does bring out facets of his personality
that are not always evident in other recordings. There is
enough variety and space, not to mention hard core bellowing,
to make the instant CD an attractive listen, but in the
end it is the raw, naked sound of a gutsy tenor and the
slippery slopes of extraordinarily fluid fingers that give
it that special zing.
# 52 REVIEWS
The Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Duo - THE PRESENT GIFT: Only
one word can describe this CD - (phroggin') H-O-T! One thing
that makes it come across that way (methinks) is the crystal
clear recording! Levin's horn(s) (tenor sax & bass clarinet)
start th' (real) dialogue off right on th' first cut! These
2 have a level of communication down that most players can
only dream about. We've reviewed them before, issue # 47
(which was a trio, I believe). Joel's piano doesn't take
a "back seat", either, because (like I said) this
is the TWO of them talking. The other thing that's impressive
(for me) is that th' LISTENER isn't left out of this conversation...
it's not just th' two of them speaking with each other -
you can hear them talking to you! Ike's clarinet contrasts
beautifully with wooden flute by Futterman on track 4, "Arrival".
My favorite track was "Coolin' In" (the last cut)...
makes great use of silent spaces to emphasize th' high energies
expressed once they get MOVIN' - & I just LOVED Joel's
solid piano on this tune! Those listeners who especially
dig improvised musics that aren't "th' same notes over
& over" will dig th' creativity of this duo to
th' point where you'll agree (with me) that this is (not
only) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, it also gets th' "PICK"
of this issue for "best improv duo"! Contact at
Drimala Records, POB 69044, Hampton, VA 23669-9344, online
at www.drimala.com or via email to email@example.com
By Michael Handler
The Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Duo, "The Present
Gift" (IML Music)
In this duo featuring both musicians on a wide variety of
instruments, the listener is challenged by the intensity
and breadth that these two artists bring to bear with their
minimalist configuration. All 13 cuts on the CD were composted
on the fly in the studio, using improvisation as the only
guidepost. The result of color, passion and occasional sweetness
is a tribute to the art of "doing it in the now."
Futterman plays piano, curved soprano sax and Indian flute,
while Levin handles the tenor, bass clarinet and Brazilian
Kalimba. Occasionally "free" or outside, the duo
share a deep understanding of each others work, a
fact that keeps a constant bond between the players and
their music. (MH)
By Glenn Astarita
InterView is brought us by San Francisco Bay Area tenor
saxophonist Ike Levin, bassist Randall Hunt, and avant-garde
pianist Joel Futterman. On this newly released project,
the Ike Levin Trio offers a hearty set of original compositions
recorded on-the-fly as they say, yet in some instances,
the music and overall presentation sparks notions of a well-rehearsed
improvisational unit performing previously explored concepts
and motifs. One interesting note here correlates to pianist
Joel Futterman's acute faculties for embedding lush melodies
into the overall mix, which counterbalances many of the
applications the pianist has implemented on previous recordings,
highlighting his often frenzied, free-jazz stylizations.
The musicians commence the proceedings with a finely crafted
twenty-two minute excursion titled, "Scenarios",
while also eliciting impressions of perhaps John Coltrane,
Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner expounding upon ethereal
musings and harmonically rich motifs, amid various scenarios.
Here, Levin demonstrates a robust tone complete with soulful
lines and shrewd utilization of space and chromatic scales
along with a few well-placed nods to Trane, while Futterman
often provides the swirling arpeggios and sonorous dreamscapes.
Essentially, the trio exchanges passionate dialogue against
numerous aural vistas as Hunt effectively steers the lead
soloists in and out of spiked choruses, climactic movements
and free-style escapades while the musicians reconstruct
previously articulated themes with blues-drenched notes
and insightful resourcefulness.
The band delves into disparate terrain whether belting out
an innocent and straightforward four bar blues, witnessed
on "Melon Juice" or while executing calming call
and response type dialogue on "Mr. Lekish". The
final track, "Micro Climates" is all about inquisitive
interaction, sublime lyricism, deft sound shaping and the
soloist's lilting proclamations as the overall production
glimmers with resplendent imagery fabricated atop loose
interplay, probing statements and memorable melodies. Recommended!
* * * * (Out of * * * * *)
By Frank Rubolino
Futterman has amassed a strong collection of albums playing
with reed players. He has shared performances with, among
others, Jimmy Lyons, Joseph Jarman, Mats Gustafsson, and
Kidd Jordan. On Interview, Levin, an equally strong reed
player, joins him in a stimulating series of songs that
contain power plus earthy beauty. Futterman is capable of
telepathically sensing the direction his associates are
taking and to expand on that stimulus with intricate profoundness.
He gets inside his piano and builds dense improvised statements
in response to the challenge. On this date, Levin is a masterful
foil in bringing out this quality in Futterman. He blows
with conviction, exuding long lines of mournful passion
that overflow with dynamic tension to incite Futterman into
fervent action. All seven cuts are spontaneous compositions.
Bassist Hunt rises to the occasion, energetically mixing
arco and pizzicato surges to encompass the music with deep
resonance. All three reach a peak on the lengthy opening
"Scenarios," a dedication to interviewer Bob Tamarkin.
It is a vigorously pursued exploration filled with the spirit
of Coltrane. Futterman switches to curved soprano on short
segments to fly with Levin on the weighty tune. These dual-reed
interludes appear sporadically throughout the performance,
with Levin introducing the Canfi Indian flute and Futterman
also playing an Indian flute. The music is at its most daring,
however, when the piano/tenor/bass trio takes it to heightened
levels of intensity. With Levin improvising with gusto,
Futterman ranging over the keys with emphatic authority,
and Hunt fueling the fire, the music takes wing and soars.
This is a challenging set filled with strength, and it is
a welcome addition to the growing discography of Futterman.
By Steven Loewy
Joel Futterman is somewhat of an enigma. Blessed with
enormous talent, he has worked hard to develop his radical
technique and to participate in some stellar recording sessions,
yet, at least by the turn of the twenty-first century, he
had not quite received his due. Futterman has had a hard
time breaking through, perhaps due to the mostly incorrect
impression that he falls in the shadows of Cecil Taylor.
In fact, Futterman has forged an independent path, one that
does, to be certain, incorporate some elements fashioned
by Taylor and others, but one that also expresses itself
individually and much less radically. While Futterman's
best work has been with his longstanding association with
tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, he has also sometimes performed
successfully in small groups with lesser-known musicians.
In the instant recording, Futterman leads a trio with Coltrane-influenced
tenor saxophonist Ike Levin and bassist Randall Hunt in
a series of seven freely improvised tracks. The three explore
a variety of moods, including a stunning blues on "Melon
Juice." Levin is a strong improviser, one who is a
perfect match for Futterman. Together, they are capable
of wild, free blowing, but they are capable of emphasizing
melody. A highlight is when Futterman picks up his curved
soprano sax to wrestle with Levin, as they do, for example,
on the title piece, "Interview" and on "Dispatch."
Bassist Randall Hunt is a bit in the background throughout,
perhaps due to the mix. Those who are fans of Joel Futterman
will wish to purchase this release, as will those interested
in the fine improvisational skills of the unsung Ike Levin.
By Dick Metcalf
The Joel Futterman/Ike Levin Trio with Randall Hunt-InterView:
While its not scratchy or raw, or terribly new in format,
this CD provides some VERY solid moments for those who love
improvised music that can inspire the listener to new creative
heights. Joel's keyboards are strong, but don't (in any
way) overshadow the other players. A PERFECT mesh of exploratory
(sonic) oratory with its highlight being the spontaneity
that can only come from players whose ears (and hearts,
I rather imagine) are open to each other. Levin's tenor
doesn't ramble, but can at times SCORCH your ears! Randall's
contrabass provides a foundation, in a sense, for the other
players, only rising to the fore when truly necessary. The
music on this production is based on crystal clarity and
a vision of the spontaneous that few players achieve
gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!
Splendid - The Online Music Magazine
By Ryan Tranquilla
Futterman, Levin, and Hunt add a few sonic flourishes to
the piano, tenor saxophone, and bass. Their individual tones
are wonderful, although the contrabass is low in the mix
at times and hard to hear. When the instruments come together,
something vividly spontaneous takes over the music. A long
first track, Scenarios, drains attention through its final,
interminable crescrendo, Melon Juice's three minute burst
of relative melody gives "Interview" an immediate
shot of focus among the three players. The relative brevity
of the rest of the disc's five cuts, along with an increase
in purpose and actively exploits the genre's strengths while
avoiding its weaknesses. "Dispatch's" layered
horns zoom out and back in under a minute, and "Micro-Climates,"
the final eleven minute workout, seems strangely organic.
This trio has credentials to spare, which shows in their
skill as both soloists, and among their ensemble play.
Issue #7-8 Summer/Fall 2001
By Scott Hreha
Joel Futterman is not an idle man. After spending the
better part of the 1980s and early 90s in one-off recordings
sessions with a veritable who's-who of horn players (Joseph
Jarman, Raphe' Malik, Hal Russell), the Virginia based multi-instrumentalist
found a kindred soul in the equally restless unsung tenor
giant of New Orleans, Kidd Jordan. Several CDs and performances
later, Futterman is once again branching out to work with
new compatriots in similarly new situations.
As with all of Futterman's projects, the trio with saxophonist
Ike Levin (possessor of a strong, solid tone that owes as
much to Warne Marsh as to John Coltrane) and bassist Randall
Hunt (whose understanding of his instrument's time keeping
properties makes him an ideal choice for this percussionless
group), employs an unbelievably high level of communication
as its raison d' etre. In fact, the introductory piece "Scenarios"
is aptly titled in this context, as each instrument introduces
separate plots, and then proceeds to weave them together
in a convergin story over the course of 22 + minutes. The
rest of the session unfolds in this spirit as well-from
the deconstructed blues of "Melon Juice" to the
intrigue bent huge dynamic sweeps of "Micro Climates,"
the trio consistently steps into a sonic flurry and expertly
sorts the elements out with its collective ear.
"Kenny G? Kenny G Who?" East Bay Express: Ike Levin
All About Jazz: Ike Levin
AAJ How did Charles Lester Music (CLM) happen?
IL: When Joel and I started recording together we did not want to bother with the hassle of getting existing labels to put out our work. We wanted to maintain full creative control over all aspects of it. Most labels pay you for the session and perhaps provide some small percentage of sales above a certain level, but they own the music. They paid for it. I did not want sell my music and have someone else own it. In addition, Joel had told me some stories about how with past recordings he did with different labels where after the sessions he was given a handful of CDs and then had trouble getting more when he ran out. So I decided to put together the Charles Lester Music label. The name Charles Lester is in honor of my father. That was the name of his band back in the 30s-the Charles Lester Orchestra.
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