Sunday, August 5, 2012
Concert Review: Free Form Flute (Robert Dick, Clifford Dunn, John C. Savage, Paul Taub); Good Shepherd Center, 8/1/2012
Fast forward to 2012. I happened to meet R. D. before the concert, and asked what music he was going to play, “It’s going to be spontaneous – but there will be quartets, trios, duets, and solos.”
(Photo by Brenden Z. Smith)
The first (and longest) piece was a quartet improvisation, with R. D. and Clifford Dunn, John C. Savage, and Paul Taub (all well-known Seattle “new music” flutists). There is a surprising variety of music that can be produced by the “simple” ensemble of four flutes, particularly when the alto and bass flute are added. I kept a running commentary on the music:
Shakuhachi sounds, then with staccato interruptions. Quasi-serialist (all standard flutes, with C. D. on alto). 2 players stop playing and move to the side, letting C. D. and J. C. S. play microtonal drones. R. D. picks up bass flute (from table in the middle of the stage) and plays a solo. Percussive tapping sounds, beautiful ripples of notes, then overtones. Quiet, tranquil. Crescendo, others join in, becomes strident, avian. Messiaen. Amazing how loud this can be – produces feedback-like humming in my ears. Dies out in a standard “free jazz” gesture, but leaves harmonics with a hip-hop bass quietly filtering in from the open window (did the flutists notice this while they were playing loudly and decided to give it a place in their improvisation?) Return of the shakuhachi sounds. R. D. picks up piccolo, solos (a sopranino shakuhachi?) P. T. begins actual whistling while playing the bass. Humorous tapping (swing rhythm) from R. D.; random flutterings from the others. Stop; immediately piccolo solo begins coda. Quasi-serialism again, then “talking” back and forth from all players. End.
A second, slightly shorter improvisation concluded the first half of the concert. However, the master strokes came during the second half. Here, R. D. began with some strangely frightening, bubbling noises which gave way to a short piece for flutes and voices – at one point R. D. actually vocally instructed the others (while still playing his flute) to join in. Afterwards they added all types of vocal “tics” to their fluting. The results were both hilarious and vaguely disturbing. And then followed The Solos.
In contrast to the two long pieces of the first half, this second “jam” consisted of a suite of short pieces. Four of these were solos, one for each player. Ranging from gentle pentatonic melodies in the style of Debussy (or Lou Harrison, or even Paul Horn) to microtonal drones with multiphonics, to syncopated jazz riffs, these solos emphasized the variety that is possible on this instrument. As the promo from Wayward Music Seattle proclaimed: ignore everything you think you know about a solo flute recital. This was anything but a solo flute recital.
The concert concluded with something that I would have though impossible. The audience demanded an encore, so R. D. announced “…and now for the ugly ending…” and they all began at exactly the same time in exactly the same key. How does a group improvise in unison?! (Actually it was a continuation of the piece they’d just finished, but the sudden unity was unexpected and beautiful anyway.) During this final improvisation, two of the players wandered to the sides of the audience, resulting in an organic type of surround sound. Despite what R. D. had said, there was nothing “ugly” about this ending.