If just a couple of days ago, we said that we are going through a period of creative plenitude and effervescence in the area of the piano, of all kinds, today we are forced to surrender once again to the evidence, with the launch of “Montauk Variations,” second album of British composer and musician Matthew Bourne, one of the season’s stars for the ever-on-the-mark recording company The Leaf Label. Unlike other of his contemporaries, such as Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick or Max Richter himself, Bourne comes from the more academic, prestigious spheres of jazz, an area where he has moved with subtlety, elegance, and experience over the last ten years. It is now, when he already has a well-forged and developed reputation in an area that is clearly different from that of Neoclassicism, when he has decided to take the leap and venture into other fields. The process works in the opposite direction, but it is no less brilliant for that.
One of the particularities of this album is that it is difficult to decipher its stylistic edge. At first contact, one has the feeling that it is an album of intimate, delicate jazz, not much given to virtuosity, emotionally spare; but as the minutes pass, these limits begin to blur, finally rendering it unrecognisable. Somewhere between jazz, neoclassical, avant-garde, and minimalism, “Montauk Variations” is the dark, uncomfortable flip side of the solo recordings of Brad Mehldau, but also a more-than-suitable companion for the more experimental compositions of, say, Max Richter, for example. In “Senectitude,” looking no further, we catch the first glimpse of a cello that brings tension and brazenness to the proposal; in “Unsung,” the sinister figure of dark ambient appears, unexpected guests at a party with an eminently piano-based origin and profile, but which doesn’t forgo a little flirtation.
“Juliet,” “Gone,” “Cuppa Tea” or “Smile,” the indelible final lament (a version of an original song by Charles Chaplin), give voice to the more expressive, emotional side of Matthew Bourne, bringing him closer to that hypothetical community of “freelance” pianists—in the sense that they don’t belong to any specific scene or area—which is already opening its arms to him. They are precise, painful sonatas, with a bitter taste and great depth, showing us a jazz pianist in search of his own language and, especially, his own artistic personality, beyond the more or less identifiable margins of genre. And here, in his intention to open up cracks and to try out other territories far removed from jazz, lies one of the greatest attractions of a musician who, besides proving to be restless and daring, is also showing himself to have plenty of technique, intuition, and sensitivity.