Ursel Schlicht and Reuben Radding

Einstein’s Dreams
Konnex KCD 5165

By Ken Waxman

Common enough in the mainstream jazz world, the grand piano-double bass duo becomes more problematic once tonality and melodies are left behind. That’s why Einstein’s Dreams is notable, as pianist Ursel Schlicht and bassist Reuben Radding use extended techniques and timbres to expand their interface.

With a doctorate from the University of Hamburg, German-born, New York-based Schlicht is much more than an accomplished academic. When not explores the duo format with Radding and flautist Robert Dick, she’s a member of large aggregations like the Laura Andel Orchestra and Butch Morris’ conduction ensembles. Concentrating his association with the pianist as part of the Andel Orchestra into this intimate idea exchange, fellow New Yorker Radding brings his experience in one-on-one improvising with local multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and Seattle alto saxophonist Wally Shoup to this CD,

With no official front-line instrument, the two combine and separate frequently to insert comprehensive pulsations with the four long improvisations here. As apt to emphasize thick overtones à la Rachmaninoff (Sergey) as straight ahead syncopation à la Silver (Horace) or Garland (Red), Schlicht relies on both inside piano and the keys for variety. A percussive walker when needed – often with a resolute tambourine-like beat –

Radding utilizes the stretching and ricocheting power of spiccato and sul ponticello bow movements to augment his side of the bargain.

Centrepiece of the recital is the almost 16 minute “Time Passes More Slowly for People in Motion”, which encapsulates most of two’s aims and accomplishments. Beginning with scene-setting ringing stops from Radding, harshly and powerfully Schlicht stretches her vibrations with internal string vibrating and low-frequency harmonies. As the bassist’s carefully modulated bowing turns to booming slap bass lines, the pianist introduces altered dynamics with heavy handed touches that work their way around the keyboard. With offbeat dissonance she sweeps from pitter-pattering in the higher registers of the instrument to burrowing into its lowest regions, gaining squeaking sul tasto and sul ponticello responses from the bassist. Almost operating independently, one of her hands expands the secondary nodes of each phrase after she first emphasizes its primary position. Climatically, Radding brings things to a halt with thick, powerful thumps.

Slithering from flashy octave jumps and arpeggio pulsations to a crescendo of tremolo chords or stopped ands stroked wound internal string scuffing, throughout Schlicht is by turns lyrical or down-to-earth. Concerned overall with stripping away the superfluous, she emphasizes deeper cooperation. The distended flexibility of Radding’s sometimes woody, always inventive arco and pizzicato timbres posits a response that is more often bumpy than straight-ahead, but in due course defines a tandem alliance.

The somewhat enigmatically titled Einstein’s Dreams may imply that in improvised music, timbre experimentation and vocabulary expansion done properly leads to satisfying teamwork rather than fission.

In MusicWorks Issue #96