Matthew Bourne - Montauk Variations (The Leaf Label)

I'm no jazz afficionado. I probably know as much about jazz as the average pop music fan. Which is why I'd previously only been aware of the pianist Matthew Bourne at arm's length, through references in regular mailings from the Leaf record label. Now, Leaf are releasing what is apparently his first ever solo studio album, and his first outing with the label. From what I read about Bourne, it sounds like he doesn't wear the jazz tag easily; he's been a serial collaborator over the last decade - piano trios, free jazz/noise groups and even a project seeking out broken pianos, Songs from a lost piano (which sounds intriguing and I must check it out this minute).

I've no intention of attempting anything like a review of this album. I'm not qualified and I hate it when people wander into territory where they're clearly out of their depth. However, there is an obvious "way in" for me here - a version of the Charlie Chaplin tune Smile, which originally appeared with the 1936 film Modern Times. Here's Chaplin's original tune, embellished with unashamed sentimentality, complete with gushing orchestral arrangement.

And this is what Bourne does with it, a kind of deconstructed, slowed-down cousin of the original. The pieces are put back together more poignantly, if anything, with great emotion in the minor shadings and tentative variations in tempo. He mentions in the sleevenotes that he thought at one time the album was about his own "personal unquietness, solitude and heartbreak", but then goes on to discount this theory. There's certainly plenty of evidence in Smile to back it up.

That was filmed at Leeds College of Music before Christmas. Here are the other pieces filmed at that session, including one, Unloved, which hasn't been released anywhere and is the most gorgeous soundtrack to heartbreak you'll hear. There's also a John Zorn tribute, complete with elbows and all.

You'll find Smile here on soundcloud aswell, along with two other of the most straightforwardly beautiful and elegant pieces on the album, Infinitude again and Juliet, the latter featuring what you could only call a lachrymose cello.

For some reason, something about this album reminds me a bit of last year's Green and grey by Julia Kent, which consisted of solo cello, layered and looped, with some sparing field recordings. Something about the sombre mood, probably, but also the fact that someone with obvious training has opted to simplify and peel back their technique. In the process, I'd say Montauk Variations is a very modern album - chaotic, frenzied in places but ultimately leaving you with a feeling of solitude and romantic melancholy. My knowledge of jazz is limited, but as pop music goes, I love it.

Lots more info about Matthew Bourne on hos own website


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