Release date: April 10, 2020
Label: Sunnyside Records
Marking Milne’s first foray into piano trio performance, Andy Milne's The reMission is a stunning shift in direction in the artist’s illustrious career. In late 2017, a life-changing cancer diagnosis forced Milne into a period of reflection over his fruitful career, a reevaluation of his direction as an artist, and finally, remission. Added to the mix was an unexpected offer (which he accepted), for a full-time professorship from The University of Michigan. After conquering his diagnosis, Milne seized the opportunity to tackle a musical venture that he has always found exciting, and at times daunting: the powerful intimacy of the piano trio format. Juno award winner Milne brings a bold, imaginative sound to this pared down context, presenting fresh, original material written for this hallmark collaboration between himself, drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert.
Milne’s focus on composing for larger ensembles is best represented by his stellar work with his long-standing group Dapp Theory. Formed in 1998, Milne released five albums of inventive compositions for this outfit, the last of which, 2018’s The Seasons of Being, won ‘Group Jazz Album of the Year’ at the 2019 JUNO Awards. After twenty years of creative output in that esteemed quintet, Milne’s decision to create the trio Unison has yielded bold compositions that seem to emanate from within the pianist’s core, performed by an artist with a heightened conviction and supported by a steadfast rhythm section made up of Penn and Hébert.
“In jazz,” Milne remarks, “the trio is perhaps one of the most heralded and revered configurations for pianists. Throughout most of jazz’s ongoing evolution, the piano trio has been the backbone of the rhythm section and thus represented and defined the textural palette and rhythmic heartbeat for many groups of all sizes. As a stand-alone entity, the piano trio has often been the backdrop wherein pianists establish their reputations and define their pianistic vision. For me, the decision to present who I have become as an artist in the trio setting involved a reckoning and a certain degree of artistic and technical evolution in order to both embody my past projects, and forge a new path forward.”
While Milne’s journey reflects a reversal of the jazz pianists’ time-honored practice of starting their careers with a trio and tackling larger configurations later, this decision has paid off by informing his trio sound with a structural and harmonic richness, and masterful interplay atypical to mainstream of the piano trio idiom. Paying homage to a jazz luminary, the album begins with a spirited performance of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance”, setting the tone for an album wrought with energy and exploration. The trio finds a sweet spot on this simmering rendition with crisp snare pops from Penn, fluid bass lines from Hébert and cerebral lines from Milne.
Upon listening to “Resolution”, the first original composition presented on the album, one gets a feel for the breadth of the interplay among the three musicians. Milne composed this atmospheric exploration on New Year’s Day as a pledge to create music that plays to the strengths of his personnel. Fittingly, this piece was originally composed for solo piano, which liberates the rhythm section, allowing them to transform the piece with textural musings surrounding Milne’s melodic invention.
Compositions like “Winter Palace”, and “Drive by - The Fall” highlight Milne’s appreciation of the simple beauty of nature, an appreciation perhaps revitalized by confronting a life-changing diagnosis. The ostinato driven “Winter Palace” is a masterwork of tension and resolution, encapsulating the feeling of a turbulent snowstorm. “Drive by - The Fall” most closely aligns to with the music of the Dapp Theory rhythm section writing which Milne was so accustomed to prior to forming the trio. The leader refers to this piece as the bridge between the two aesthetics. Fittingly and perhaps ironically, the track is sequenced squarely in the middle of the recording.
Bassist John Hébert sets up the groove in “Dancing on the Savannah” which also prominently features the sensitivity and reactiveness of drummer Clarence Penn. Speaking to Penn’s excellence, Milne notes, “He and I have known each other since we both moved to NYC but had never performed together. Every time I heard him perform, I found myself fixated by how his sound, time and finesse elevated whatever band with whom he was performing.” Rounded out with Hébert on bass, Milne notes that the trio’s collective conversation guides their path towards the intersection of their combined sensibilities -- an intersection of “joy, risk and trust”.
The Seasons of Being
Release date: September 28, 2018
Label: Sunnyside Records
★★★★ - Downbeat Magazine
WINNER OF THE 2019 JUNO AWARD FOR BEST GROUP JAZZ ALBUM
“Gentler and more beautiful than anything else in Milne's discography, The Season of Being is also a work of stubborn individuality. It sounds like little else.” Will Layman, PopMatters
Pianist and composer Andy Milne, one of the most imaginative and versatile voices in contemporary jazz, is proud to present The Seasons of Being, available now on Sunnyside Records. Backed by his genre-crossing, critically acclaimed quintet Dapp Theory, The Seasons of Being explores the body, spirit and mind on music, channeling the diagnostic principles of homeopathic healing to captivate the emotional characterization of each improvising musician. A-list improvisers Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder, La Tanya Hall, Michael Attias and Christopher Hoffman join Milne & Dapp Theory on what is the visionary musician’s most ambitious project yet.
An oft-repeated piece of musical lore states that the great composer/arranger Duke Ellington wrote music specifically for the individuals in his orchestra. His knowledge of their musical lineage, strengths and weaknesses allowed him to customize parts for each voice. Milne takes this principle a step further on The Seasons of Being. Applying the principles of homeopathic diagnosis, Milne generates an optimized environment for improvisation for his long running Dapp Theory ensemble and special guests.
After a challenging couple of years and some seismic life changes, Milne was able to channel his energy into some positive changes, including accepting a full-time teaching position at the University of Michigan. But it was his own battle with prostate cancer that led the pianist to explore homeopathic healing, as he felt it was important in his quest to become cancer free. His study of the subject led to a Chamber Music America commission to explore the effects of homeopathic techniques on composition for a chamber ensemble.
Milne’s idea stemmed from his experiences performing other composers’ music, and from observing other musicians perform his. In some cases, inspiration would come easily, whether because of the material or the musician’s temperament. Milne wondered if there could be a way to personalize the music to optimize engagement and benefits for all involved during performance.
Naturally, Milne turned to his primary musical outlet-- his collaborative ensemble Dapp Theory-- which the pianist has led for twenty years. The cohesion amassed from time invested can be heard in the group’s interplay and singular response to color, texture and mood. The latest iteration of the group includes woodwind specialist Aaron Kruziki, bassist Christopher Tordini, drummer Kenny Grohowski and wordsmith John Moon.
To augment Dapp Theory’s already expansive sound, Milne wanted to recruit a number of diverse and experienced special guests to be a part of his experiment, the unifying element being that they were all musicians he respected and wanted to work with further. He entrusted the duties to guitarist Ben Monder, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, vocalist La Tanya Hall, saxophonist Michael Attias and cellists Christopher Hoffman and Jody Redhage.
Milne’s positive experiences with homeopathy led him to ask how it could influence improvisation and lead to more emotionally meaningful interactions for the musicians playing his music. He hoped to find a way to create compositions that play to hidden aspects of his collaborator’s emotional profiles, namely, where they might feel most stimulated to broaden their range of expression.
To apply his method, Milne studied each musician to collect and learn their emotional responses. Many of these responses would never have been garnered through their personal or musical relationships. First, Milne subjected the individuals to a listening test of 15 short excerpts of a wide array of musical styles, asking them to share how the music did or didn’t resonate for them. Second, there was a questionnaire with a number of yes/no questions. With the assistance of homeopathic healer David Kramer, Milne then assessed their handwritten responses, looking for clues to their musical tastes and emotional lineage. Kramer identified individual pathologies based on their answers. Milne found it remarkable how close those characterizations were to the individuals’ traits. In some cases Kramer was able to describe physical attributes of certain musicians.
Kramer’s diagnoses were meant to provide remedies or paths toward healing. Milne took these diagnoses and utilized their outcomes to compose pieces that would hopefully prompt positive responses from the musicians he chose to feature. Many times, the musicians did not know why they were reacting the way they were, so it was quite revelatory after they found out why they liked the way they felt while playing the pieces. So, much like Duke Ellington, Milne was able to write to each musician’s personality rather than, their instrument, and on a far more clinical basis.
Andy Milne and Dapp Theory created a remarkable recording with the intention to heal on The Seasons of Being. The pianist came up with a novel approach to composing and group awareness that should be a sounding board for healthy, democratic approaches to collective activities for years to come.
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For The reMission
"Although some relaxed balladic interpretations come forward, the trio makes the most of the striking cinematic worthy thrills on the faster numbers." Read the full review here.
Being at a large research university like Michigan means Milne can continue to explore cross-disciplinary creativity, all in a town he finds welcoming and easy to navigate. Read the full feature here.
"What you hear is the result of a bandleader working backwards, taking the structural and harmonic richness of a larger ensemble and funneling it into the “powerful intimacy” of a trio, the music as fully realized as ever." Read the full feature here.
"The emotionally complex album that came out of that session owes much to the single-
minded focus of the three players as they moved fluently through Milne’s dynamic compositions. Some tunes brim with hopefulness, like the crisp, brightly melodic “Winter Palace,” or the final cut, “Sad To Say,” with its reverently resonant outro. Others plumb the darker places, like “Dancing On The Savannah,” a rhythmic tumble into jarring harmonies, and “The Call,” a stark portrait in modern expressionism. But none of them lingers in any one state or mood very long. Milne’s vision is changeable."Read the full feature here.
THE JAZZ SESSION
In this interview, Milne talks about finally deciding to make a trio record; how the album coincided with both his fight against cancer and a new job at the University of Michigan; life during the pandemic; his thoughts on McCoy Tyner; and more. Listen to the full interview here.
"The three work like three threads of a chord, each sustaining the other." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The trio walk a series of fine lines (or rather skip an exciting musical hopskotch course) between jazz history and Milne's own forward-thinking forms, never failing to happily challenge and inspire."
Read the full review here.
WULF'S MUSIC + BLOG
Unison, so the name of the trio, start the album with McCoy Tyner’s ‘Passion Dance’, energetic and powerful. Another highlight is ‘Dancing In The Savannah’, a Milne original, which is opening with a groovy bass and as well including some incredible work by drummer Penn. Listen and enjoy! Read the full review here.
"Pianist/composer Andy Milne’s The reMISSION marks his first foray exploring the powerful intimacy of a piano trio setting. The album draws inspiration from some major recent live events – including beating a cancer diagnosis – and finds him performing original material with his newly-formed Unison trio, alongside drummer Clarence Penn and bassist John Hébert." Read the full article here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"And say it they do, with cutting character and sonorous clarity on "Drive By -The Fall," the coiled, free falling "Dancing On the Savannah," and the dark, arcing movement of "The Call." With all the atonal intimacy and polyrhythmic history of piano trios past and present, think Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Milne, Hebert and Penn close out this grand statement with the fragile sturdy joy of "Sad to Say" and instantly posit The reMission as of one this year's finest recordings." Read the full review here.
"He's always known his stuff but here, in a classic format revisiting some classic tunes, he brings a new flavor to the proceedings. Nothing is radically turned upside down, you just taste his new zest for life in the grooves. Solid stuff that charts a new chapter nicely." Read the full review here.
"Unison Trio draws on a dramatic period in the life of Andy Milne." Read full news piece here.
"The album title, The reMission, couldn’t be clearer, and Milne deserves compliments for both the remission of the disease he was diagnosed with and the mission accomplished with this gorgeous trio recording." Read the full review here.
For Seasons of Being
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"...an interesting album, dependent on merging several artists beneath a colorful umbrella of Andy Milne’s creativity." Read the full review here.
THE WHOLE NOTE
"One need not subscribe to the practice of homeopathy to resonate with this heady recording, because no one can dispute the healing power and collaborative magic of music."
GEORGE W. HARRIS
"Intriguing collection of sounds and ideas that will make for increasing discernment on what we should listen to for spiritual and physical growth." Read the full review here.
"The Seasons of Being is the absorbing result: an album of flowing themes designed for individual players." Read the full track feature here.
NEW YORK TIMES
"A resourceful pianist with a crisp touch and a constantly shifting harmonic approach." Read the full feature here.
BRAD COHAN & GEORGE GRELLA
THE BROOKLYN RAIL
"...a spiritual, inspirational, and therapeutic experience where traces of jazz, hip hop, funk, improvised music, and poetry provide a moving soundtrack for healing." Read the full feature here.
"He's clearly forged his own formidable path in the years since, however, with The Seasons of Being a prime example of the boldness of his personal vision." Read the full review here.
D. OSCAR GROOMES
"The Seasons of Being is a unique approach and an applaudable outing for Milne." Read the full review here.
"...the album features Milne at his most Ellingtonian, masterfully orchestrating an original fusion between the impressionistic and pure groove." Read the full review here.