CD review

Dave Milligan – “Momento”

Dave Milligan – Momento
(Big Bash Records. BBRCD018. Download only, available from Bandcamp. Download Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Dave Milligan is perhaps best known for his work with Colin Steele, having been an integral member of Steele’s various ensembles for the last twenty years. He’s also much in demand as a musical director for theatre and as a collaborator in Scotland’s folk scene. He hasn’t recorded much under his own name, with just a couple of CDs on the note defunct and much missed Caber label – which makes this new release all the more welcome.

Milligan was introduced to bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi when together they formed the rhythm section for a Scottish-Italian collaboration featuring Steele and Italian saxophonist Enzo Favata as part of the 2013 Edinburgh Jazz Festival. The relationship between them clearly worked since, when he received a bursary from Creative Scotland in 2015, Milligan travelled to Udine in north east Italy to record with Gallo and Gandhi for three days.

The resulting album is a delight. Milligan’s tunes are full of understatement, his folk-inflected jazz producing a joyous melancholy. Whilst Milligan takes inspiration from traditional sources for several pieces, the tunes are imbued with emotion that makes them feel intimate and personal.

Gallo and Gandhi are an excellent foil for these subtle, softly-spoken compositions. On the opener, Going Nowhere, their quiet gentle accompaniment leaves much unsaid and, together with Milligan’s piano, provide lots of space. Milligan’s sleeve notes comment on the irony of releasing a track called Going Nowhere when travel is curtailed and we face quarantine outside our doors; indeed, Going Nowhere ends just where it begins – but it is the journey to get there that fascinates.

The trio produce a bigger, more full sound on (There’s) Always Tomorrow. It starts with a similarly open, exploratory style and builds to a crescendo during Milligan’s piano solo, before leaving only Gallo and his bass. His solo highlights his skill: it is a bass solo that pulls one in.

They Said It Was About You is downright heartbreakingly beautiful. It could be a long lost piece by Gershwin (I heard hints of I Loves You Porgy). Gandhi and Gallo leave a lot of space for Milligan to explore the melody.

Milligan has one solo piece, Sandy’s 70th. At times almost a classical etude with echoes of Bach, it is a slow, intimate portrait on the piano. Milligan plays occasional solo gigs, and this track epitomises that rare experience.

The other tracks have their roots in Scottish traditional tunes of various provenance, although Milligan’s arrangements make them very much his own, and of this time. Gallo and Gandhi are remarkably adept with this marriage of folk and jazz, as if they’d been playing it throughout their careers.

In some ways this record, though recorded five years ago, is a rare benefit of the current pandemic, since the lockdown gave Milligan the time to re-examine the recordings and decide to release them. The sound is excellent – the tracks were engineered, mixed and mastered by Stefano Amerio who deserves to share some of the credit with the trio. Apparently they recorded more than these seven tracks – I hope it doesn’t need another lockdown before we get to hear them.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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