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Andy Milne & Unison Offer a Perfect Way To End Cleveland’s Perfect Jazz Weekend

Andy Milne and Unison

Everywhere you look, there are signs that the local jazz scene might again look like the one that went on leave in March, 2020. Reading the tea leaves, the return of the Tri-C Jazz Fest to Playhouse Square is huge tell. That tentpole event needs no introduction from me, just a hope that you’ll go and enjoy the great music on offer.

But there’s one more jazz event you should make room for this weekend. It’s the return to Cleveland’s Bop Stop of pianist Andy Milne and his Unison trio for a welcome if long-overdue tour to support his latest recording The reMission (you can read my review of that record here).

Just how overdue is this tour? The reMission was released in April 2020 and the tour was originally scheduled to bring the band to Bop Stop the following month. There’s no need to tell you what happened next.

“We won the JUNO Award last year in Canada, and there was interest in trying to present JUNO winners in a couple of different situations in Ontario,” Milne, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, told me by phone from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “But things were very slow to open up in Canada. So, it was a bit of rolling the dice to say let’s commit to this, because you didn’t know if the border was going to be open.”

Eventually, Milne, bassist John Hébert and drummer Clarence Penn were able to play a handful of dates in Canada last October to celebrate The reMission being named Jazz Album of the Year, but a U.S. tour would have to wait.

Yet there one U.S. audience got a preview of the music from the JUNO-award-winning album: the one that was at Bop Stop for a December 20, 2019 concert by the Unison Trio and vocalist LaTanya Hall, who is Milne’s wife (I reviewed the concert here).

In addition to Hall’s commanding vocals, that concert showcased Milne’s wide-ranging piano vocabulary, which gathers a continuum of styles from the high-velocity runs of Oscar Peterson, with whom Milne studied, to the higher rhythmic math of saxophonist and theoretician Steve Coleman. Hébert has a massive, woody tone that he uses to probe the depths of a composition, but always leavened by the rhythms of his native New Orleans. Penn might be the most musical drummer on the scene today, which explains why no-compromise artists such as Maria Schneider, Wynton Marsalis and vocalist Betty Carter have insisted called on him. He’s almost as much fun to watch as he is to listen to.

Together they make music on the highest level, which makes Sunday’s Bop Stop engagement perhaps the most compelling musical event of a weekend that’s full of them.

“I’m kind of worried that the city is going to be jazzed out,” Milne said of his Sunday night show. But he needn’t worry. Even in this Golden Age of piano trios, this one stands out for its imagination, deep listening and common purpose–unison indeed.

Andy Milne & Unison, June 26, 7 p.m., at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. $20 available here. The concert will be livestreamed at Bop Stop’s Facebook page. Viewing the stream is free but donations to the band and the venue are appreciated and can be made here.

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