The music produced by Andy Milne’s band Dapp Theory is unique in one sense because of the poetic lines breathlessly spoken by John Moon. “He’s not a trained musician like the rest of us, who can look at a chart [arrangement with chord changes],” Milne said. And yet Moon’s role is basically not that different from the band’s four musicians: Milne calls on him to express various moods — mysterious, energetic, or very dramatic — depending on the spirit of the song at hand. Pianist-composer Milne, who brings Dapp Theory to Gig Performance Space on Friday, April 3, is a native of Toronto and counts Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Béla Bartók, and Joni Mitchell among his musical influences. He studied with pianist Oscar Peterson at York University in Toronto, where he completed an honors degree in music. Then he received a Canada Council grant to study at The Banff Centre in Alberta. It was there that he met alto saxophonist Steve Coleman, in whose Five Elements band he worked from 1992 to 1997.
Milne has worked as a sideman with Archie Shepp, Ravi Coltrane, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, Carla Cook, and Geri Allen. His 2003 album, Y’all Just Don’t Know , features the results of a songwriting collaboration with Bruce Cockburn. Milne’s portfolio also includes duo albums with French pianist Benoît Delbecq and harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret.
Milne formed Dapp Theory 17 years ago to “tell passionate stories, promote peace, and inspire collective responsibility toward uplifting the human spiritual condition.” What is Dapp? “It’s a really different way of saying connect to the give-and-take in the universe,” he told Pasatiempo in 2003. “You’ll get good energy if you put good energy into it.” The group’s third album is Forward in All Directions , released last fall. Guests Ben Monder, Jean Baylor, and Gretchen Parlato join the band for the outing on the Whirlwind label.
Pasatiempo: Who are you bringing to Santa Fe? Andy Milne : It’s my current edition of Dapp Theory, with Aaron Kruziki on winds. He’s been a really nice addition because of his instincts and openness. His sensibilities are really liquid and flexible, playing both clarinet and saxophones. I wish he could bring his bass clarinet with him, but it’s pretty big to take on the road. And the rhythm section is the same. It’s Kenny Grohowski on drums and Chris Tordini on bass, and vocalist John Moon. Pasa: How long has John been with the group? Milne: A little over 10 years. Pasa: Do you write the words John speaks? Milne: No, I never have. The most I’ve ever done is I’ve said, “This is what it’s about for me,” and then he freestyles it. On most of the songs on this new record, he sort of found the subject a little more than me saying what it’s about. Right now I’m writing the music
for a big project for the group for this fall. It’s a Chamber Music America commission for 10-piece ensemble. And for this, there are more pointed directives that I need to give him for each piece he will improvise on.
Pasa: Your biography mentions film scores for William Shatner. Let’s talk about that.
Milne: I had the fortune of writing, producing, and performing scores for a series of documentaries that Bill did. That work started for me in 2011 first with The Captains , where he profiled all the people who played the captain after him in the Star Trek franchise, both on television and in the films. I was asked to do the music through Avery Brooks, who was the captain on Deep
Space Nine and who is also a singer. Bill wanted the score to be improvised. I flew to L.A. I showed up in the studio, and after some quick greetings I sat down and played for over two hours, but the film wasn’t yet completed. It was exhausting, an amazing experience. It was a strange way to do the score. But then Shatner said, “OK, this guy, Andy Milne, knows what he’s doing.”
WHAT IS DAPP?
“It’s a really different way of saying connect to the give-and-take in the universe.”
Pasa: Kate Mulgrew played the only woman captain. How did you treat that piece?
Milne: She is a woman, but she’s a very strong personality. I think I used more cello for her music, versus Scott Bakula, for example, where I used harmonica, more of a playful idea. I did the music in two days and that spawned six more films, five in the series The Captains Close Up , and another that’s a really marvelous little thing that got no attention at all: Still
Kicking , which is a conversation with Shatner and Christopher Plummer. I was a fan, so I enjoyed it all very much. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a couple more. Bill’s always on the go with something.
Pasa: You have a project with Benoît Delbecq and the koto duo Ai Kajigano and Tsugumi Yamamoto.
Milne: Strings and Serpents. I was working on a rough mix of one of the pieces just before you called. That all came about when I saw this koto duo, and I was blown away by these two women playing very large kotos. I thought of Benoît and told him about it, and he was very excited. Then eventually we brought in Saki Murotani, an animator colleague from Japan.
The project took four years to get up and running. There’s a film that was a companion to the music and basically tells the creation-myth story of the Rainbow Serpent. We did a series of dates last fall and we recorded. It was a very interesting shift, because there are a lot of strings on the four instruments. What struck me was the amazing complementary nature between the koto and the piano. Pasa: Are you teaching at The New School or NYU?
Milne: Both, and at Columbia University. Pasa: Are you going to prepare a piano here, or play Fender Rhodes or a synthesizer?
Milne: I’ve always played some keyboards, but now I play mostly piano. Early on, I did more keyboards if there was no piano or if it was a bad piano. Now I play keyboards sometimes, when I want to, rather than because I have to. If we play something from a couple of albums ago, there are keyboard elements that are more essential, but still I think all the music can exist in either domain, and what I like about this version of the band is that they get that and can support that kind of on a dime.