I SOMETIMES WONDER if ‘charm’ – that genteel expression of beauty that can often be lacking in our present age – is at risk of becoming consigned to the ‘lost words’ chest. But, for all the right reasons, Dave Milligan’s delightful new piano trio album, Momento, with double bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi, has enchanted me endlessly over the last few weeks… to the point of not being able to leave it alone!
The Scottish pianist’s career, across the last decade or so, has seen him focus on projects with artists including Scott Hamilton, Trilok Gurtu, Colin Steele and Karine Polwart; and, as musical supervisor, he collaborated with Mark Knopfler on the stage adaptation of Local Hero. So the finalisation of this first album as leader since 2008 only gained impetus due to the artistic hiatus created by the Coronavirus pandemic. The recording of these seven tracks – part of a longer session captured with typical clarity by Stefano Amerio at Italian studio Artesuono – actually goes back to 2015.
It’s a great mix. Going Nowhere, one of Milligan’s five original pieces here, was written down in a departure lounge between flights; and described as a ‘sketch’ which didn’t request a specific melody, its quiet, Escher-like progression evokes resonances of Tord Gustavsen. With similar opening delicacy, (There’s) Always Tomorrow – from a suite inspired by letters between Robert Burns and Agnes McLehose, and reduced from big band arrangement to trio intimacy – increasingly coruscates with lively pianistic improv and cymbal flashes, while They Said It Was About You (‘For Ella’) actually displays a precise, Italianate piano charisma akin to Giovanni Guidi, buoyed by Gallo’s prominent bass colorations.
Dave Milligan’s national roots are represented by dancing Parcel of Rogues (trad., first printed in 1792) and evocative, north-of-the-border Freedom (John McLellan, 1875–1949), whose marching origins (not without a hint of ‘Loch Lomond’) are cleverly refashioned with lush, ebullient chordal rhythms and percussive momentum. Quietly affecting piano solo Sandy’s 70th easily brings to mind Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopédies’ – but perhaps more so, the moving serenity of the adagio from Ravel‘s Piano Concerto – in a particularly elegant birthday tribute ‘For Dad’. Finally, inspired by a tune from a book of collected fiddle music, Milligan’s Made In The Border features sternly-planted ‘riffs’ and a ‘Scotch snap’ folk melody (Gallo in whimsical Arild Andersen mode) before Gandhi swells its arresting, extended race to the finish.
After a few cycles of listening, at around the midpoint of these 43 minutes came the realisation that I had discovered what can only be described as the heart of the recording. In that moment, the overall flow of the pieces fell into place, shedding a brighter light on the whole – and therein, the spell was smilingly cast. A word of caution, though – do not attempt to sample or listen to this fine album on a ‘tin box’ (ie smartphone speaker), otherwise its musical richness is likely to be obscured. 13 tracks remain ‘in the can’, so rumours of more seeing the light of day are keenly anticipated.
Initially released in digital format on 28 August 2020 (though a physical CD release is also indicated for perhaps later this year, complete with Milligan’s background notes), Momento is available from Bandcamp and Amazon.
Video: (There’s) Always Tomorrow
Dave Milligan piano
Danilo Gallo double bass
U.T. Gandhi drums
Big Bash Records – BBRCD018 (2020)