Robert Dick | Ursel Schlicht | Photosphere | Nemu Records

nemu records 002

Robert Dick – flute | Ursel Schlicht – piano

Recorded live at Kulturhaus Dock 4, Kassel, Germany, January 2004. Engineered and mixed by Frank Momberg. Mastered by Tom Hamilton. Photos by Ross Willows. Graphic design by Eve Vick. Painting from A Love Primeval by Will Ryan. Produced by Robert Dick & Ursel Schlicht

Tracklist: 1. Lapis Blues [10:28] 2. Emergence [11:06] 3. Faust [6:49] 4. Piece In Gamelin Style [11:51] 5. Fragments [8:38] Total Time: 48:52

This meeting of minds, intriguingly titled PHOTOSPHERE

joins Robert Dick and Ursel Schlicht, two virtuosi whose talent for stretching their instruments and minds allows them to paint with more colors and textures than flute and piano have any right to expect. A common pairing in classical music, flute-piano duos are rare in improvised music. But as they roam the territory between jazz, new music, and world music, Dick and Schlicht field a host of unusual sonics and techniques so startling that they open new panoramas. At times you may wonder just what you’re hearing. Over the last three decades, Dick has redefined the flute’s apparent limits musically and technically. A veteran of such pathfinding ensembles as New Winds, Dick has been compared to Paganini and Hendrix (a decade ago, he recorded some of the guitar great’s material with mind-altering results) because of the way he’s extended his instrument’s possibilities. Dick is a brilliant technician with seemingly effortless mastery of complex breathing, vocalizing, and overtones. These abilities alone are stunning. But what elevates his art is how his emotional and dramatic commitment animates his technique.

Schlicht offers the perfect stimuli and counterpoints for Dick. She has played improvised music, jazz, and new music, and has a strong interest in collaborating with musicians from other cultures. She has also created improvisational scores for silent films and music for dance theater. At the piano, Schlicht has a quiver full of sharpened skills; she bows them with a sure hand aiming not for bravura but for the soul of each piece. Listen to how she morphs her keyboards from muffled doom-laden clouds to note-bending koto; she’s as likely to play inside the box — the piano sound box, that is — as outside it at the keyboard. So when she and Dick make music — each wrote half this album’s pieces — it’s compelling. “I think of this album primarily as a conversation,” Dick observes. That may sound banal, but these two articulate talkers spin unexpected tales with delightful turns of phrase, infusing human drama into music. The complexity invites the listener to think, engage, reflect—activities perhaps less prized now than they should be.

Recorded live in 2004

at the Kulturhaus Dock 4 in Kassel, Germany, PHOTOSPHERE could be described as meditative. That doesn’t mean it lacks fire or intensity, but the passions in play are ultimately shaped by artistic intelligence. Though there are diverse musical sources and moods, nothing here devolves into postmodern pastiche or New Age glibness. LAPIS BLUES is an excellent example. Dick explains, “It struck me that Korean court music had a great deal in common with blues. In Korean music, groups of instruments can fly in loose formation, with a feeling very similar to blues and gospel.” To adapt the keyed Western flute to the glissandi integral to these styles, Dick uses a special telescoping headjoint of his own design on the flute. Called the Glissando Headjoint®, it adds another set of colors to Dick’s brimming palette, and stands as an example of how he and Schlicht often take sonic and musical cues from instruments other than their own. LAPIS BLUES opens with the flute’s breathy tones undulating into unresolved colors. Enter Schlicht, whose piano shapeshifts in interaction, now challenging or responding, now tinnily percussive or limning arpeggios. The piece rotates through varied cycles of tension and release for ten and a half minutes; it is both delicate and forceful, Dick’s flute etching runs and exhaling swirls against Schlicht’s empathetically prowling piano—when it doesn’t punctuate her thoughts as tuned percussion. Of EMERGENCE, the duo says, “We created this piece intuitively. The timbral overlaps and contrasts that it highlights are a big part of our music.” It opens with heavily damped piano and breathy bass flute cavorting at the edge of whistling and periodically startled by jagged accents. Schlicht’s harp-fingerings augment the elegaic atmosphere, then her damped hammerings segue into a hurtling exposition. The conversation unfolds from reflection to restlessness to rage to resolution.

FAUST, written by Schlicht, is a theme from her score for F.W. Murnau’s classic film. This composition begins ominously, the piano lurking with large, angular steps alongside the dangerously capering, almost careening flute. The tempo accelerates into a dizzying eddy, and flute and piano dance a ballet of passion and pover and human frailty in call and response that ends with the reprise of the fractured, leaping melody. PIECE GAMELAN STYLE is another established Dick gem. The pyrotechnics on this solo tour-de-force are no less devastating than Paganini’s or Hendrix’s. Dick’s circular breathing alone is a marvel. “I’m holding low notes and playing scales above them at the same time,” he explains. “Through pure serendipity, the notes that can I held while such scales are played are all members of a Javanese scale. When Boehm designed the mode flute in mid-1800s Germany, he certainly wasn’t thinking of multiphonics or Javanese scales. Throughout the piece there are improvised episodes inspired by different styles of flute playing from around the world.” Of her composition FRAGMENTS Schlicht asserts, “It departs from a series of rhythmic phrases, and creates layers superimposed patterns of different lengths.” The opening’s insistent spiky runs downshift into frenetic rumbles yielding to an urban soundscape, relentless, dazzling, edgy, seductive. Then Dick’s flute unfurls its all-too-human cry across the hurtling rhythms. An upward-bounding interval closes the work. PHOTOSPHERE is direct and intelligent in a world of posturing and yelling and spin and hype. It asks for your attention rather than demanding it. But those whose ears are open and whose spirits are willing will find ample reward. — Gene Santoro, August 2005 Author of Highway 61 Revisited and Myself When I Am Real: The Life and M usic of Charles Mingus.

Ursel Schlicht and Robert Dick | Photo by Ross Willows


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One thought on “Robert Dick | Ursel Schlicht | Photosphere | Nemu Records

  1. 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.

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