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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler and Steve Hirsh

Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler/Steve Hirsh - Ebb & Flow (Mahakala, 2022)
Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler - Timeless Moments (Mahakala, 2022)

By Gary Chapin

It wasn’t intended this way, but I’ve been listening to these two albums as a playlist along with two Mahakala discs from last year: Futterman and Hirsh’s Warp & Weft, and Fowler and Hirsh’s Two Five None. The four recordings, which feature every possible duet from this group along with the trio, has become a cornerstone to my summer 2022 listening. Beach music playlist!

Joel Futterman is the musical exemplar of the evolutionary idea of “Humans as Persistence Hunters.” This concept says that humans excel not because of spectacular structures of fierceness (e.g., giant saber teeth, or vicious claws on our hind legs), but because we persist. We keep going. We learn things. And then we keep going, having learned things.

You can see this in his own story of dogged practice over hours and hours, hunting the moment, but I also see this in my experience of Ebb & Flow, made up of two parts, each of which stand entirely on their own as an experience. For me, on these records, the unit of relevance is the track, not the album. I play “Part 1,” at 37-ish minutes, and I need to sit with it for a while. It’s a complete free jazz statement, and it becomes more sublime the longer you are in it. In this way it is like Warp & Weft a glorious monster of a duet between Hirsh and Futterman (clocking in at an hour fifty) and which pays dividends the deeper you stay under its water.

This is in the territory cleared by Taylor, Lyons, and Murray, but Futterman, Fowler, and Hirsh have their own voices and own conversations. The three are fantastically responsive to each other, in all their non-idiomatic, non-narrative glory. The invented melodies never stop surprising and satisfying. Hirsh, in particular, along with laying down a field of exploding stars, contributes and responds to the melodies in an intriguing klangspielen way. “Part 2” starts in a dark ballad space, and then runs through the tumult until, 25-ish minutes in, you’re in a sparse, bluesy space, suggestive of isolation and noir. There’s always a story, just not always the kind you’d expect. Before long the saxophone is riding the avalanche being played by the piano.

Timeless Moments , which puts Futterman and Fowler in duet, is made up of shorter statements. While still spending much time in the free jazz space, there are explicit (to me) echoes of Dolphy, Monk, McCoy Tyner and gut bucket blues. These genresque side quests set this set apart from the others. It’s a genuine blast having the duo move from outer space to earth music and back again. The two modes illuminate each other well.

I notice Mahakala has released a quartet record, The Deep, which adds William Parker to this amazing trio. While writing this I’ve gone and bought it on Bandcamp, a delightful bit of procrastination. Now my playlist will have five discs in.


JP said...

Thanks for this review. Was introduced to Mahakala records through the excellent Dopolarians albums. Recently acquired Warp & Weft and Timeless Moments, and l’ve kept them in rotation all week. I’ll be picking up the other ones you mentioned