Andy Milne: Dreams and False Alarms

A curveball from Andy Milne, onetime keyboardist for Steve Coleman’s M-Base Collective and leader of the similarly funk/fusion-charged Dapp Theory, sounds like most people’s straight shots: acoustic piano music with a melodic foundation and a consistent approach throughout. He throws out two such curveballs with Dreams and False Alarms, a solo recording of not-quite-standards from the rock era (plus three originals), and Scenarios, a duo with Dapp Theory harmonica player GrĂ©goire Maret. The real surprise, however, is that Milne is a lyrical player, one of bewitching tenderness and even subtlety.

Of the two, Dreams is superior. Its opener, Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” sets the tone for the disc: a funky intro, settling immediately into quiet beauty. Milne’s variations on Mitchell’s melody mostly tug at the heart, but occasionally explode with avant-garde fireworks that ignore the heart for the gut. Still, melody remains his focus, even as he rebuilds some songs from the ground up. Milne makes the Police’s upbeat “Message in a Bottle” a slow introspection, so sensitive it’s liable to draw tears, and alternates between soft lyricism and stomping on “I Shot the Sheriff,” in which Milne never plays a reggae beat but masterfully implies one. He gets his out-music jollies with his originals, tellingly the album’s shortest tracks; none are particularly memorable, although “Geewas” has freewheeling rhythm and harmonies reminiscent of Monk or Coleman.

Scenarios is more problematic. Maret has a high-pitched harmonica sound that works well in Dapp Theory as a counterpoint to the heavy bass. It also works here, in the tracks on which Milne’s low register is prominent. On the improvised “Pharos of Alexandria,” the harmonica assumes a flutelike quality that trails off eerily in the spaces between piano phrases. Otherwise, it’s simply shrill, and Maret’s music is often precious-he makes a transparent attempt to sound folksy in Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” The cloying is partly because Maret doesn’t play chords: a thicker texture would bring his harmonica some much-needed edge.

Milne, on the other hand, is in fine form throughout. His chording alone can be tender (“Follow Me [Improvisation No. 6]”), and he plays melodies with the starkness and delicacy of striking a crystal goblet (“Steps from Body to Soul”). As for the guest players, Anne Drummond’s flute is almost imperceptible, but Gretchen Parlato provides the most haunting moment with her double-tracked vocal (high- and low-voiced) on Scenario’s closing “Moon River.”