MATTHEW BOURNE: Montauk Variations (The Leaf Label)


Posted on Mar 2nd 2012 01:20 am

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Matthew Bourne: Montauk Variations

Montauk Variations
The Leaf Label 2012
17 Tracks. 56mins32secs

Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD Spotify: STRM

Matthew Bourne has spent the last ten years working on many different projects and touching on quite a wide array of genres, but he has, until now, never released any solo record. Inaugurating what is announced as an on-going collaboration with The Leaf Label, with additional projects announced for the next eighteen months, this is exactly what he is doing with Montauk Variations, an album which began its gestation during a short visit to Montauk, NY a couple of years ago, and a subsequent realisation that all he needed to do was strip his music back down to its bare essential: him and a piano.

The album was recorded during three two-day sessions between May and June of last year in Dartington in Devon, Manchester and Wharfedale in North Yorkshire, and features sixteen piano improvisations, for the most part fragile romantic pieces, sometimes so scarce that they at times seem like in suspension. This is the case  with opening piece Air, for which Bourne even does away with chords entirely for almost half of the piece, and even when he finally ads a layer of accompaniment, he does so with extreme thriftiness. He adopts a similar parsimonious approach on Phantasie, Gone or Knell later, only granting enough notes to give his pieces defined contours, but preserving their intensely minimal aspect.

By contrast, Bourne’s taste for more experimental work comes through over a series of pieces, starting with the rather hectic and vivid Etude Psychotique, on which he appears to frantically scale the keyboard of his piano up and down simultaneously, then with Within, on which he uses his instrument as a percussive tool, and One For You, Keith or Abrade, where he tampers with the strings inside the body of his piano to create odd little atmospheric moments out of textural noises.

On Juliet, Senectiture or Here, Bourne adds delicate phrases on the cello, progressively bringing the instrument in toward the end of the former, or placing it at the forefront on the latter two, hence bringing in further sonic diversity to a record which could have, in less expert hands, sounded somewhat too austere.

While Bourne undoubtedly seeks, for the most part, to retain the purity of his music through his recordings, he willingly lets slip slight creakings of the wood or occasional environmental noises, as is the case on The Greenkeeper, where the dull hum of a distant lawn mower can be heard in the background. It appears that, whilst recording at Dartington Hall, he could hear men working on the grounds, and, having identified the key of the drone made by the lawn mower’s engine, he began to improvised around it.

The album concludes with Bourne’s version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, originally from Modern Times. Keeping in line with the rest of the album, his interpretation is introspective yet complex, placing delicate flourishes around the main theme whilst leaving enough space for silences and inviting reflection.

For all its sparse and delicate aspect, Montauk Variations is a record which requires the greatest level of attention to reveal its hidden layers. It would be all too easy to miss some aspects of this record altogether by only focussing on its introspective nature for instance. Whilst it is a consequent part of the project, Bourne works from so many different angles throughout that only repeat listens and dedicated immersion can do this record justice.


Matthew Bourne | The Leaf Label
Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD Spotify: STRM

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