CD Review: Andy Milne & Dapp Theory – Forward in All Directions

Andy Milne and Dapp Theory – Forward in All Directions
(Whirlwind Recordings. WR4660. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Canadian-born pianist and composer Andy Milne worked extensively with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements in the 90s. This striking album has many Coleman influences in its angular harmonies and complex rhythms, but Milne is also influenced by 70s singer-songwriters. He’s previously recorded versions of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young songs, for example, as well as two other Dapp Theory albums. There’s a very pleasing mix of toughness and lyricism in this recording, brought together by producer Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets founder member).

Milne joined the M-Base (Macro-Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations) Collective in 1991, and you can hear the characteristic atonal sounds and dislocated rhythms of what Coleman once called “improvisations within nested looping structures.” In Hopscotch the intervals leap around like children on the pavement. Sax-player Aaron Kruziki’s pure, classical soprano tone smooths over the jagged edges of Christopher Tordini’s electric bass riffs and Kenny Grohowski’s elephantine cymbal sounds. Photographs’ acoustic bass gives a gentler sound over electronic crackles like old vinyl. Milne’s piano solo is passionate and full of unexpected intervals. John Moon’s poetic vocals remember his grandmother; a photo takes him back to the ‘…roots of the tree…I took my chance and walked in deeper.’ Milne once told an interviewer that he writes music with Moon’s rap-influenced rhythmic poetry in mind. There’s a range of moods in the piece, with a gentle drum solo from the extraordinary Grohowski.

Search Party opens with gloriously dissonant lines from Fender Rhodes and Ben Monder’s guitar. The sax adds to the polyphony, like overlapping train tracks- the harmonies lie in the cracks between the lines. The rockiness increases: ‘Send out a search party,’ Moon raps, ‘…barely holding on…’ Milne played on some of Coleman’ hip-hoppier work, (eg. A Tale of 3 Cities), but this piece suddenly changes track again and becomes sweet and lyrical. How and When Versus What also has Fender Rhodes, a little grittier in tone, Herbie Hancock-like. The mellow guitar solo drifts over long clarinet lines. Nice to Meet You has a fine funky drum part, following the tune, which sounds weighted on one side. Synths flesh out the sounds, and the electric bass creates a delicious disharmony under the Glasper-ish piano chords and Ornette Coleman-like sax solo. The Trust opens with clarinet intervals that could be based on one of Steve Coleman’s arcane mathematical principles. But the piano counter-lines bring real beauty and feeling out of what could be a dry exercise.

Milne’s lyrical side comes out in other pieces too: In the Mirror, Darkly is mystical with Middle Eastern percussion from Grohowski, somnambulistic piano and gauzy sax, recalling Paul McCandless and Oregon. The title Headache in Residence pre-empts all criticism; there are prog overtones as the guitar solo builds powerfully- a little like some of Mike Walker’s rockier moments. The free piano over grungy guitar harmonics is wonderful. Milne sounds as if he has at least Fourteen Fingers, as the melancholy sax sketches the tune, Shorter-like, over the highly-coloured spread chords. Jean Baylor’s wordless vocals grace the ethereal Katharsis, counterweighted by Kruziki’s bass clarinet, and sounding uncannily like Norma Winstone with Tony Coe. ‘I refuse to be a slave to any old apathy of rhythm’, declaims Moon over succulent bass and drum grooves and Gretchen Parlato’s dreamy backing vocals.

This recording is full of fine playing with complex, fascinating harmonies and time signatures. The writing brings beauty, emotion and narrative to more cerebral M-Base patterns in a very satisfying way.

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