Matthew Bourne’s Variations


The versatility of Leeds-based pianist/composer Matthew Bourne has worked against him in the past, but it seems he’s out to put his mark on 2012.

In the past Bourne’s projects have ranged from the avant-funk of the Electric Dr. M collaboration with trioVD guitarist Chris Sharkey, to art-house improv on a stage full of upright pianos reclaimed from the wrecker’s yard, so anything he does is worth investigation. What follows is just a brief summary of some the projects he currently has on the go.

Tony Bevan, Matthew Bourne, Tony Buck, Barre PhillipsEverybody Else But Me
Late 2011 saw the release of Everybody Else But Me, a fine album of understated improv released on saxophonist Tony Bevan’s Foghorn label, featuring Bevan and Bourne alongside veteran bassist Barre Phillips and Necks drummer Tony Buck.

Recorded in November 2010, Everybody Else But Me documents an atypical free jazz gig in which textural interplay is the order of the day. With few solos, and few peaks of sustained intensity, yet never slipping into introversion, this is a thoughtful exchange between four highly individual stylists.

The album’s standout track has the curious title of “The Harrison Ford Chord”. I couldn’t locate any online audio for it, but you can listen to a stream of album highlights on the Foghorn website.

Dunmall, Bourne, Davis, Kane at The Vortex, 9 Jan 2012
For this gig in North East London, Bourne’s regular trio with bassist Dave Kane and drummer Steven Davis joined forces with an occasional collaborator, heavyweight saxophonist Paul Dunmall.

The quartets’ two sets ranged from hypnotically lucid passages to peaks of searing intensity, where they turned improv upside down and shook it to see what would fall out of its pockets.

Bourne Davis Kane never practise, prefering to rely on the inspiration of the moment. Dunmall adds to this anarchic spirit the gravitas of his years with Mujician, a formidable quartet he shares with veteran improv pianist Keith Tippett, who rock fans may know from his early 70s work with King Crimson. Bourne shares both Tippett’s stylistic ticks and a comparable maverick versatility.

Matthew BourneMontauk Variations (Leaf)
Bourne entered the new year with a new deal secured with the Leaf label, promising a string of new albums and new collaborations, the first of which is Montauk Variations. This is a solo showcase, predominantly comprised of uncharacteristically pastoral piano.

Of course, this being a Bourne album, one can hear the influence of Keith Jarrett and other modernist touches alongside more classical influences. The quietude is leavened with the occasional percussive foray under the instrument’s lid (as on “One For You Keith”, which is presumably dedicated to Keith Tippett), and the odd irruption of wildcard energiy, of which the well-titled “Étude Psychotique (for John Zorn)”, is a standout example.

After his sixteen original “variations”, Bourne closes the album with a heartbreakingly plaintive version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”. But the biggest surprises come earlier, on the two tracks – “Senectitude” and “Here” – on which Bourne plays cello, a talent he’s previously retained as a purely private pleasure.

Coming up
Bourne’s plans for the rest of 2012 include a ‘Memorymoog’ Moog synthesizer collaboration with visual artist Michael England (for an interesting 2007 piece on whom, see this linked feature on PingMag).

Then there’s the debut of a new band with Seaming To and Semay Wu, both once contributors to Graham ‘808 State’ Massey’s art-pop band Homelife; and the renewal, in June, of an occasional association with the London Sinfonietta, with a joint concert at London Kings Place.

When (or if) he gets into it, you can keep tabs on Bourne via his blog: As yet in its infancy, one early post features a sensitive audio tribute to the late Jimmy Saville.

Related Posts
Born To Brew (Matthew Bourne and Sean Noonan) + N.E.W. at The Vortex, 16 April 2012.
Matthew Bourne + Icarus at Cafe Oto, 15 Feb 2012.

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