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Robert Dick & Ursel Schlicht: Photosphere

Derek Taylor By

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In this age of shoebox-budget labels and shoebox-sized recording technology, the concert stage has swiftly become the new studio. As a result, home listeners are privy to more live music than ever before. This rhyme-ready pairing of flautist Dick and pianist Schlicht illustrates the immediate benefits of the progress with this performance taped in front of a respectful German audience.

Both musicians are masters of extended techniques on their respective instruments. Dick has been expanding the capabilities of the flute family with a virtuosic command for several decades. His blend of jazz, classical, new music, Eastern and even rock influences (in the form of Hendrix covers) has repeatedly garnered both accolades and consternation at its wanton diversity. Schlicht is similarly disposed to a diaspora of genres and styles. She's just as likely to outfit her piano with all manner of preparations and manipulate its innards as attend to the conventional ivories in shaping an elaborate improvisation.

This set's five pieces distribute compositional honors evenly between the two players. Dick's "Lapis Blues unfolds like an Asiatic variant of the titular idiom. Shakuhachi-like gusts, augmented by a special Dick-designed flute attachment, vie with twittering accents to create a brooding cerulean brew. Schlicht mimics the sounds of Eastern percussion devices with dampened strings, further establishing the feel of a court music fantasia tinged with dark Delta mud. "Emergence also traffics in somber and dispersive percussive tones. Dick's whispery breath sounds and popping bass flute patterns butt against more pedal-suppressed piano clusters to create a disconcertingly spooky combination of floating tonal shapes. Oddly enough, I found myself thinking of Herbie Mann's classic "Purple Grotto from his vintage Bethlehem album Plays.

"Piece in Gamelan Style is a solo tour de force for Dick's circular breathing and precision multiphonics. At nearly twelve minutes, it tests his mettle in matching the polyrhythmic traditions of named in the title, but remains meditative and highly melodic throughout. Calling him the Evan Parker of the flute based on this performance isn't an exaggeration—in fact, it's probably an inadequate pigeonhole given the breadth of his interests.

"Faust and "Fragments, both by Schlicht, offer what appear more standard flute and piano pairings, at least on the surface. The first sounds largely through composed and chamber-oriented. It comes from the pianist's score to F.W. Murnau's silent film of the same name, and there's certainly a cinematic element to the duo's closely calibrated interplay. The second is largely devoted to the composer's contemplative rhythmic constructions. Dick returns in the second half to voice a rapid galvanizing retort through aerated spiraling inflections.

Flute and piano may sometimes yield a limited, classically tethered palette, but in the hands of Dick and Schlicht, any such shortcomings swiftly succumb under the amount of shared intellect and imagination placed in the service of breaching preconceived parameters.


Track Listing: Lapis Blues; Emergence; Faust; Piece in Gamelan Style; Fragments.

Personnel: Robert Dick: flutes; Ursel Schlicht: piano. (Recorded: January 2004, Germany.)

Title: Photosphere | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: NEMU Records

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