July 29, 2019
Robert Dick/Tiffany Chang
Raise the River
RogueArt ROG 0080
Robert Dick & Adam Caine
The Damn Think
Chant Records CR 1905 RO
More than any other description, especially when it comes to the arts, the phrase “beyond category” is overused. Except that is when it comes to Robert Dick and the flute. Over the past 40 years the New York native has played every variety of the transverse instrument from piccolo to contrabass, making inroads as he established himself in improvised, notated and so-called ethnic musics. His adroit craftsmanship is on show on these duo sessions, one of which oscillations on the thin line that separates New music from Free music; the other of which brings in the faintest whiff of Rock-styled inferences.
Playing eight different flutes Dick is partnered on Raise the River’s nine tracks by young Bay area-raised percussionist Tiffany Chang, who also brings uncommon percussion strategies to her role. Most obvious is when the two create non-clichéd, faux exoticism on “This Once” where her understated thumb-piano plucks evolve contrapuntally with Dick’s G flute that with liquid clarity flutters to ever higher pitches. More generic to the collaboration are “Nine Portions”, where her kit is matched with Dick’s open hole alto, and the title track where he plays the bass flute in F. Multi-pitched and dissonant, the instrument on the first selection presents a wide range that moves from inner-directed deep pockets of swirling reverberations to repeated peeps. Still, the buzzing repetition from Dick creates the percussiveness necessary to meet Chang’s gong prodding, ratchet and cogwheel whirl, bell shaking and rim shot rebounds. “Raise the River” on the other hand features mild but swinging pops from the drummer as Dick creates verbal friction, mumbling, growling and scatting in tandem with instrumental passage, at time creating tones that would relate more to a string bass than a bass flute.
Key percussion is another implement pulled out from Dick’s tool box which is used judiciously to set up real time ripostes to percussion extensions. But neither it nor other extended technique is used to mask moderato story telling or ungainly sound transitions with these themes. Instead emphasis is on quick timbral changes, with the flutist bringing the same sophistication vibrating expressive, near-pastoral story-telling variations from the contrabass flute on “Recovered Memory”, as he does with piccolo on “Pirarucu”. An infectious near-Latinesque romp, the second tune finds whirling dervish-like peeps ands key percussion thickening the rhythm created by Chang’s hand drum slaps and clave and bell shakes.
Dick was first attracted to his chosen instrument after hearing the piccolo part on “Rockin’ Robin” and has expressed admiration for Jimi Hendrix by recasting some of his songs. Because of that background the fills, flanges and firestorms from Brooklyn-based Adam Caine`s electric guitar make parts of The Damn Think resemble a Rock records. This can be substantiated when the session explodes from the first track with twanging fills and pinprick-sharp flanges from Caine mated with mid-range blowing and a basso continuum from Dick. The impression is enhanced on “Short Term Memory’, the second cut, where someone –perhaps Dick – lets loose with a rumbling, retching Captain Beefheart-style vocal. Intermingled are sliding and distorted flute projections as well as gnarled and exaggerated, knob-twisting string riffs, suggesting that memories of “Purple Haze” lurk in the background..
The CD ends with the title track that sound as if it’s ready to become Arena Rock as Caine buzzes his notes with wah-wah extensions and Dick responds with guttural whistles and stinging thin trills. But there’s also a bucolic side to this duo. “Eyes of the Beholder” featuring acoustic guitar lines and conventional flute timbres is more fluid than frenetic and folksy enough to end with accessible vibrations from both. However when compared to the narrowed breaths and rugged strokes elsewhere on the disc, the defining track is “Prognostalgia”. Claustrophobic and rigid with flute puffs that get darker and brusquer as the piece evolves, these wavering low pitches make common cause with slack-key-like hammering and bottleneck-like flails from the guitarist before warbling tones from both make the finale comfortable.
Two more instances of Dick’s ever-evolving artistry confirm why he’s won accolades, honors and respect from fellow flutists and progressive-minded listeners.
Track Listing: Raise: 1. Thieves 2. Swedge 3. Bricolage 4. Nine Portions 5. Raise the River 6. This Once 7. Palindromida 8. Pirarucu 9. Recovered Memory
Personnel: Raise: Robert Dick (flute, alto flute, bass flute, bass flute in F, contrabass flute, flute w. Glissando Headjoint®, open hole, little flute in G, piccolo) and Tiffany Chang (drums, thumb piano*)
Track Listing: Damn: 1. Life Years 2. Short Term Memory 3. Eyes of the Beholder 4. Prognostalgia 5. Petrichor 6. Why We Need the Dark* 7. The Damn Think
Personnel: Damn: Robert Dick (flute, bass flute and piccolo) and Adam Caine (electric, acoustic guitars)