Scotish Borders pianist Dave Milligan has performed throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and Asia. Previous working associations include time with Art Farmer and Scott Hamilton. In addition to his trio, featured on Shops, he works with Bachué, with harpist and singer Corrina Hewat, in duo with Simon Thoumire, as a member of the Catriona MacDonald Band and in the large folk ensemble The Unusual Suspects.
Joining Milligan on this trio recording is Edmonton, Canada born bassist Tom Lyne. A graduate of McGill University, Lyne has worked with Martha Reeves And The Vandellas, Charlie Hunter and Lyne’s own band. Drummer, composer, bandleader and teacher Tom Bancroft rounds out the ensemble. He has worked with Sun Ra, Martyn Bennett, Geri Allen and Bill Wells.
The music on Shops, the second release by this group, was commissioned by An Tobar, The Tobermory Arts Centre on the Isle of Mull. An Tobar Director Gordon Maclean asked the group members to compose pieces about the shops in Tobermory. The result fills the disc. The little hamlet, as one would expect of small towns, is full of shops that carry a wide assortment of wares; including one shop where one can purchase fishing tackle and books.
The end result is not one of the most unified compact discs ever presented. Inspired by such a wide range of businesses, each piece has such a unique character that listening from start to finish of the disc does not really translate into a journey in the traditional sense of jazz music collections.
Standout compositions include Milligan’s quasi-Vince Guaraldi "If You Need A Painting In An Emergency." The poignant thinly scored piano lines, light drum set work and prominent bass could have been used on any Charlie Brown animated special. It’s on pieces such as this one the where the trio really shines. By leaving their "six-shooters" in the bag the group is forced to interplay their lines more intricately and the result is just this side of heaven. It’s a shame the piece is only seven some minutes long.
The use of human voices taped while doing research into the various shops, then re-cut and transformed, is a novel idea and incorporated into Milligan’s "Tobermory Story." While the concept is a good one, their placement into the musical soundscape of this composition not only distracts from piece’s framework but doesn’t come at logical points within the form.
Bancroft’s "Browns" is a delightful break from the rest of the disc and is rhythmically the most interesting composition. By using a refrain rhythmic riff as an on-again-off-again ground bass, so to speak, he is then free to interject a series of varied and slightly off-kilter juxtapositions that enliven for a totally satisfying aural effect. The use of some non-traditional percussion instruments, added at just the right moment, show Bancroft to not just be a thinking man’s musician but also to have a remarkably refined sense humor.
Unfortunately, because the compositions are all so different the ensemble never gets into a groove and overall sound as if, at times, the struggle for ensemble cohesiveness overtakes them. "Duncan’s" never gets off the ground and "Tackle & Books" starts much too slowly to build any steam. All in all, however, the project is interesting from a philosophical standpoint; how would any jazz composer write music indicative of business establishments?