Richard Pierce Milner is a highly accomplished, life-long composer and pianist currently residing in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a region of southern Mexico. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Milner has been everything from a successful musician, playing solo in prestigious venues such as New York’s Carnegie and Merkin Recital Halls, to a producer for major network news, to an esteemed and seasoned film editor for Hollywood. Milner’s music has been featured on National Public Radio, and he has composed many pieces for various modern dance troupes since his graduation from the University of New Mexico. Milner is an internationally experienced and recognized artist of multiple mediums with a set of credentials that demand both respect and admiration. This solo piano album, titled “A Sense of Place”, is Milner’s third effort and was released January of this year.
The level of complexity, variation, creativity, and technique demonstrated in this album is exceptional. Every piece is purposeful and serves to communicate Milner’s stylistic range through dynamic melodies that develop, digress, and aim to capture subtle fluctuations in mood, emotion, and musical direction. Milner works very well with overtones, volume dynamics, and expressive movement; his compositions always seem to have a common sense of space which appears to embody both pensive contemplation and fascinating experimentation. For example, the third piece on the album, “70 Doing 80”, stands as the exemplification of Milner’s musicianship and personal expressiveness. The piece begins and often retreats to themes of dissonant, free-jazz like experimentation. However, interludes such as this throughout the album do not embody Milner as a pianist, but certainly contribute to the larger tapestry that are his compositions. The music is organized, yet in some instances, carefully chaotic. Consider a watered-down, more orthodox version of Cecil Taylor’s playing that still values expression through coherent melody. Continuing with the example of “70 Doing 80”, the piece also demonstrates another of Milner’s musical interests; a frequent implementation of Boogie-Woogie style piano that often serves as a welcome and fiery contrast to the long melodic explorations and the occasional free jazz expressions that are found throughout “A Sense of Place”. The Boogie-Woogie playing is most obvious on the beginning and ending tracks, and adds another aspect of complexity and emotion to the album. In addition, the melodic development on longer pieces such as the title track “A Sense of Place” are quite polished and sophisticated while simpler, more straight ahead melodies on compositions like “Maya Rain” and “Sol” compliment the advanced tracks by giving listeners contemplative breaks from intricate playing. Perhaps as a crude means to convey the stylistic properties of these pieces, one might imagine a jazz incantation of Meade Lux Lewis that still garners some interest in traditional melodic phrasing and structure. Three elements, coming together, to create the music of Richard Pierce Milner. The album is incredibly multidimensional and creative. The originality with which these pieces were written is simply a testament to Milner’s experience and skill as an artist.
There are only a few issues with this album. First off, there seemed to be a bit of microphone difficulty during louder sections of “70 Doing 80”; listeners will hear static popping from the high volume levels. It isn’t entirely distracting, but it nonetheless is something that probably could have been fixed during the mixing and production process. In addition, despite the positive aspects of this album’s variation, there are times where some listeners may find Milner’s eclectic compositions confusing. When jazz, Boogie-Woogie, and other artful and melodic creations are all put together, the overall presentation of the music can sometimes seem strange.
Richard Pierce Milner is an outstanding pianist who is incredibly creative, experienced, and always willing to explore and combine different means of musical expression. “A Sense of Place” is a highly complex and multidimensional album that is as accomplished as it is unique, subtle, and melodically fantastic.
Artist: Richard Pierce Milner
Album: A Sense of Place
Genre: New Age, Jazz, Boogie-Woogie
Sounds Like: Cecil Taylor, Meade Lux Lewus
Technical Grade: 9/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Commercial Value: 5/10
Overall Talent Level: 7/10
Songwriting Skills: 7/10
Performance Skills: 9/10
Best Songs: A Sense of Place, 70 Doing 80, Maya Rain
Strengths: Accomplished and polished compositions with sophisticated melodic development
Weaknesses: Small recording issues, overall style and direction seems somewhat scattered