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Enigma by Joel Futterman and Ike Levin

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 and/or guest Benjamin Tomassetti's alto in spiraling contextualizations 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 supporting Art Ensemble member Joseph Jarman.) Don’t expect a continuous assault on the senses, however. Futterman and Levin often revert to lyrical intervals that not only provide a brief respite from some of their more tumultuous forays 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.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joel Futterman and Ike Levin
  • CD Title: Enigma
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Charles Lester Music
  • Tracks: Convergence, Wonder, Discourse, Enigma, Formations, Riddlesque, Conciliation, Urbanscapes, Assembly
  • Musicians: Joel Futterman (piano, soprano saxophone), Ike Levin (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Benjamin Tomassetti (alto saxophone tracks)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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