Now here is an interesting combination. Andy Milne, whose piano leanings are anything but "normal," and harmonica player Gregoire Maret — modern master and follower of the great Toots Thielemans. So it's (slightly) avant garde piano and the very romantic harmonica. Removed from the M-Base sort of funk (partially by necessity, this being a duo) that both men toyed with in the group Dapp Theory, what road would be taken? A surprising one, as it turns out.
Surprising in that I was expecting the soft emotion of the harmonica and Milne's "out" keyboard expressions to be at odds. Wrong, on many counts. First of all, Maret is capable of far more than nice romantic melodies. On "Pharos Of Alexandria" he delves into some spooky and muted extended techniques while Milne provides a mere skeleton of harmony. "House of Fisher" has Milne sketching out a series of ringing chords under which Maret buzzes a low, edgy pedal tone. Even on the seemingly straight ahead "Couch Talk" the duo veers off in unexpected directions. Maret does follow Milne's right hand for some sparkling unison runs, but then Milne takes a solo that wants to bust right out of the tune.
Why did any of this surprise me? Because initially I forgot that Maret had joined Pat Metheny's band for The Way Up. Anybody taking part in such a long form composition would surely have the idea store necessary to construct music like this.
Though there is some terrific "modern" play on Scenarios, the listener searching for romanticism will not be disappointed. "Intersections," "Crystal Labyrinth," and the beautiful "As Far As We Know" are sure to soften even the hardest heart. The set even closes with a neat take on "Moon River" (guest vocals by Gretchen Parlato). The song is stretched a little, but its romantic qualities remain.
The centerpiece of Scenarios is "Steps From Body to Soul." At just a 64th note over eight minutes in length, just about every side of both players is on display. Milne continuously reacts to the developing harmonica line while simultaneously adding nervous texture by scraping across the piano strings. As time passes, the playing becomes more and more sparse, ending with a few quiet lines approaching and circling each other. By employing a sort of parallel call & response, it feels like they could go on forever…
I hope that they do.