CD Review: Dave Milligan “Momento”…a Scottish National Treasure

Dave Milligan

Artist: Dave Milligan
Title: Momento
Label: Big Bash Records
Genre: Scottish jazz
Digital Release date: August 28th, 2020

Review by Fiona Mactaggart

This writer first came across versatile Scottish jazz pianist Dave Milligan some years ago, in his role as the perfect accompanist to huge Edinburgh-based community choir, Love Music. One was immediately struck by the way Milligan could gracefully segue between, say, Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms,’ straight into his own, superbly off-piste jazz improvisations. 

Unknown to this ignorant writer, Milligan was by then already a greatly in demand figure in both Scottish jazz and traditional music fields, with many albums under his belt – though interestingly none for some years. So, it is of some special interest that this month he releases his first album for a while, in piano trio format: Momento

These days there is an increasing number of musicians in Scotland who, like Milligan, successfully mix their musical genres. Milligan has however been doing this for a long time, over the years working all over the world and with the likes of jazz greats such as the late, great Joe Temperley and Art Farmer, not to mention leading Scottish jazz trumpeter Colin Steele, whilst simultaneously pursuing a career with top-notch trad exponents such as singer-songwriter Karine Polwart and international super-group, fiddle band String Sisters

Indeed, it was at an Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival when Milligan and Steele were fortuitously paired with two of searching Sicilian saxophonist Enzo Favata’s band – double bass player Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi – which led to Milligan ultimately travelling to Italy to record Momento with them. And what a subtly beautiful album has resulted.

Consisting of seven tracks, most are new Milligan compositions plus two re-imaginations of Scottish traditional tunes. Opening track, ‘Going Nowhere’ with its pensive feel and leisurely pace reminds this listener of The Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘La Fleur’. As with most of the tracks there is a restrained start followed by a gradual opening out into greater, jazzy territories, with the rhythm section offering requisite delicate support. An exquisite gem of a piece.

Next up is ‘Parcel of Rogues’, a jaunty arrangement of (I think) Scottish trad favourite ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’, from about two minutes in showcasing Milligan’s light touch, steeped-in-jazz pianism.

‘(There’s) Always Tomorrow’ presents Milligan in ever more unassailable form, even evoking for this listener the great Oscar Peterson particularly in the middle section, and with an especially pleasing bass solo at about 4 minutes.

The measured and beautiful fourth piece, ‘They Said It Was About You’ sounds like a Standard of the future, whilst ‘Freedom’ is another re-imagined folk tune, this trad-ignoramus believing she heard ‘Freedom Come All Ye’.

Penultimate track, ‘Sandy’s 70th’ is a gentle, solo piano waltz which was composed by Milligan for his Dad and which combines the feel of a western classical piece with that of a lullaby. A truly lovely tribute.

For the final track ‘Made In The Borders’, Hawick-born Milligan charges the length of the keyboard, the trio stravaiging stoutly from folk-jazz to straight ahead jazz. Indeed, the three musicians rub along so well, one hopes a get-together may be in the offing, once travel becomes less restrictive.

Momento is a charming and lyrical album which showcases Milligan’s considerable piano playing, improvising, composing and arranging talents. Dually rooted in jazz and Scottish traditional music, the album should be well received by fans of either genre.  It is due out, in digital format only, on 28 August 2020.