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By now, three albums out of the gate, Andy Milne has earned the right to stand on his own. The piano/keyboard player spent seven years with saxophonist Steve Coleman, a ten-disc tenure he likens (somewhat loftily) to the relationship McCoy Tyner had with John Coltraneand the sharing of ideas within that context has touched his music forever. But like Tyner, he has retained his own voice and found new ways to express it. So enough of that heavy Coleman legacy.
Dapp Theory (in the Cosmic sense or otherwise) has been Milne's working unit for five years now, though obviously the group rides independently in the saddle. The quartet includes Milne on keys, Sean Rickman on drums, and Rich Brown on bass; Gregoire Maret adds color now and then on harmonica. Contrasting vocals from Bruce Cockburn and Kokayi provide an extra kick to half these tunes. Cockburn tends to bring a warm and lyrical touch; Kokayi rides on and off the beat, stabbing and pulsing rapidly.
The pieces on Y'All Just Don't Know depend on quirky rhythms and a heavy underlying respect for both the downbeat and the backbeat. Their cohesion depends on a sophisticated rhythmic sensibility. To coax the most energy out of this approach, the group must overlap in just the right way without ever sounding tight or simplistic. (God forbid!)
As two legs of this balanced table, Rich Brown and Sean Rickman are critical for support. And they handle the job well. The bassist constantly twists and revises relatively short units in order to continually goad the unit. Rickman makes frequent use of the bass drum to stab pointedly while he toys with the beat and the after-beat on the snare, generally keeping it staccato.
Too many easy catchwords can be used to label this music: funk, fusion, hip-hop, modern jazz, and that lingering M-BASE thing. They all work, but they also fail to capture the essence of the whole. "Only Clave" lifts off with a fluttering bass run alongside sparse snare hits, Milne dropping in easy keyboard textures and Maret working short phrases toward resolution. Two solos later, Kokayi punches out with a freestyling flair:
It's hot people mango butter sizzle like the light drizzle rain drops on Black tops in the mid-summer
And, well, you get the general idea. "Neoparadeigma" treads lightly into retro Jim Beard territory; "Bermuda Triangle" goes for broke on shifting, funky rhythmic blocks; "Y 2 K?" ripples ever onward through its brief three and a half minutes; Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" receives a straight-ahead treatment. When the band pulls back, it tends to stall out now and then, and that's the only real shortcoming with Y'All Just Don't Know. Those occasional slips into '80s fusion don't stick around for long.
Dapp Theory may be a difficult earful for listeners who can't handle its unusual combination of soft lyricism and edgy narrative, simple celebration and raging romps. That presents no problem for me, and anyone who's open to Milne's fresh outlook will likely find it a revelation.