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Robert Dick with the Dave Soldier String Quartet: Jazz Standards on Mars

There are few musicians who are truly revolutionary. Flutist Robert Dick is one of them (actually “flutist” is a bit of an understatement; he plays everything from piccolo to contrabass flute). He has expanded flute technique to include circular breathing, multiphonics, and a seemingly endless inventory of percussive and voice-enhanced techniques. In this regard, he is comparable to saxophonist Evan Parker. Yet, Dick deftly applies his innovative techniques in a startling array of settings. In one of Dick’s ventures, Oscura Luminosa, a genre-busting collaboration of Baroque specialists and free improvisers, the book spans Monteverdi and Metallica. The range of Jazz Standards On Mars, Potion and Aurealis, is equally impressive. Yet, the last impression made by these three discs is their musicality.

One of the first sterling albums of ’98, Jazz Standards On Mars is Dick’s second disc with violinist Dave Soldier’s String Quartet (with violinist Regina Carter, violist Judith Ixsell and cellist Dawn Buckholz). In addition to an industrial strength treatment of Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”-the first Dick/Soldier project was the ’93 mostly-Hendrix program, Third Stone From The Sun (New World/Counter Currents)-Jazz Standards On Mars includes Soldier’s bold arrangements of compositions by Coleman, Coltrane, Dolphy and Shorter. There is an attractive world music flavor to some of the charts: Coltrane’s “India” benefits greatly by a hint of an undulating, Bengali pop pulse, while Ornette’s “Three Wishes” has a swirling, Turkish-tinged groove. Even when the interpretations are fairly straight up-as is the case with Dolphy’s “Gazzelloni” and Shorter’s “Water Babies”-there are dollops of striking color (like Soldier’s banjo on the former and Valerie Naranjo’s vibes on the latter) that throw new light on the works. The project also benefits from a strong cast and the platooning of rhythm sections (bassists Mark Dresser and Kermit Driscoll join drummer Ben Perowsky on the Dolphy and Hendrix pieces; bassist Richard Bona, drummer Steve Arguelles and Naranjo, doubling on percussion, perform on the others). Carter is excellent throughout the program, as equally effective sawing like Sugar Cane Harris on “Machine Gun” as she is navigating the open-ended improvised section of Dolphy’s “Something Sweet, Something Tender.” Obviously inspired, Dick runs the technical gamut-from breath and tongue punctuated lines on “Gazzelloni” to menacing bass flute vocalizations on “Machine Gun”-to produce consistently pungent statements. Jazz Standards On Mars takes chamber jazz to a new level.

Potion is New Winds’ first disc to feature the recently recruited Herb Robertson. The trumpeter/fluegelhorn player is very attuned to the erudite approach to space and color that has traditionally been this long-standing trio’s calling card. In collective improvisations, he exhibits a keen sense of when to dovetail Dick and reed player Ned Rothenberg, and when to prod them into new areas. Robertson also brings strong notated material to the table; the conclusion of his “Co-Enzyme” has an affecting post-Vaughn Williams pastoral tenderness. Most importantly, Robertson gives the proceedings a good dose of…brass, particularly on Dave Douglas’ “For Every Action,” which features searing exchanges with Rothenberg’s alto, and on Rothenberg’s playful ode to parenthood, “Romper Room.” On Potion, New Winds is very much a new ensemble.

Dick’s co-op trio with pianist John Wolf Brennan and bassist Daniele Patumi make an auspicious debut on Aurealis. It’s a clich , but it’s appropriate here: this group deals in sound, a rich, warm sound that is expertly recorded by Carlos Albrecht. This seductive resonance belies the complexities of most of the compositions, and the abstract qualities of the improvisations. Initially, the considerable structural and procedural aspects of the music take a back seat to the sheer pleasure of Patumi’s space-soaking tone, Brennan’s deft touch and Dick’s hovering notes. Still, for each lilting melody and meditative theme, there are equal measures of conceptually daring music. While many ensembles push the envelope with overt, aggressive means, Dick, Brennan and Patumi practice a far more subtle brand of brinkmanship.

Originally Published