Pouring over Montauk‘s highly-emotive make-up, almost in time with a waitress pouring out Bourne’s third cup of tea, it’s easy to associate the feel and inspiration for some of the tracks to these adverse incidents. And yet, in keeping with the tranquil tourist spot where Bourne first found his muse, the bulk of the album – with exception to the percussive patter of ‘Within’,’Abrade’ and the darting, almost violent ivory hammering of the John Zorn-inspired ‘Etude Phychotique’ – bathes in beautiful, calming ballads.
One stand-out piece ‘The Greenkeeper’ – which not only again demonstrates Bourne’s illustrious flair for improv but nods back to another teen ambition of a career in agriculture – evolved quite by circumstance.”Myself and Sam (Hobbs-producer and engineer) had arrived at Dartington the night before recording, set up, and then the next day we tinkered around with microphones and we noticed there was some building work going on in one of the buildings next to the hall. Then there was this dumper trunk making a big drilling noise and in the hall behind the stage were offices, so we could hear doors slamming and the clattering of glasses and stuff from the kitchens, so we put notices up saying ‘Please Be Quiet, Recording In Process’ but nobody responded to those. Somebody slamming the door outside would render a take useless, and then there was this lawnmower outside which was so loud that it was as if, in the end, it didn’t interfere because me and Sam were aware of it and it just existed there in the background. So rather than fight it I thought ‘what is that, what is that note?, the sound (of the mower) was vaguely in the key of D or maybe F sharp so I played along and came up with this idea, a kind of throw-away piece with a lawnmower on it..”
Despite Bourne’s success in the field , but unease with his tag of ‘jazz musician’ it becomes clear throughout this conversation that he’s quite the raconteur when it comes to conversing his peers within the jazz genre. Having been raised on a diet of Glen Miller, Bill Evans, Brubeck and Sinatra, it wasn’t until he discovered the latter on TV that he found his first real vocation as a musician.” I saw Frank on TV and I started crying…” he laughs. “… I thought I need to be able to do that, just walk into a room, and just do that.”
With the piano capping a long register of instruments the boy Bourne longed to learn (trombone, violin, double bass, cello), he was drawn to “the chords and harmony of Dave Brubeck, then I quickly got into Bill Evans, then obviously Keith Jarrett and others”, but insists ” I don’t see myself as purely a jazz musician, but no matter what I say in interviews about where my music is coming from, some people are hell-bent on dragging it, and forcing it into pigeon holes.”
“I mean, I am known in the jazz world…” he carries on, visibly vexed recounting some of the vacuous write-ups his music has been party to over the years. ” but maybe I’d assumed that the jazz thing is where I was gonna find my own way, not be troubled by the narrowness of whoever is going to review my music. Despite what I have to say about it being about composition and British composers, landscape and other stuff, they still say it must be influenced by these jazz artists, and because its solo piano it sounds like Keith Jarrett, I mean, come on.”
” I got into Gershwin when I was in my teens and was into big chords and harmony and an old teacher of mine, George (Sidebottom) would say ‘ you know what Matthew, as you get older it’s not the loud climax’s that get to you, it’s the quiet ones’ and it’s in that , and I think I finally got to understand what he was going on about and what he meant, and how it does effect you and excite you rather than the loud stuff. All of those nuggets of advice he gave me I still carry around with me. In fact I owe this turning point to him, and actually it is all about the quiet, and I have spent the last ten years maybe playing up to this free-jazz, wildcard, maverick pianist because the press said so, because I had read things in reviews.”
Considering Bourne’s aversion for these critical carve-ups, it’s hardly surprising when he admits to have stopped reading reviews of his shows and albums, a recent ritual he describes has been ” liberating, because I know what I feel about my music, I know the bits I like, the bits I don’t like, or what I could improve on.”
“It goes back to something (John) Zorn wrote…” he is quick to add, himself a huge fan of the prolific, U.S avant-garde composer with whom he was once lucky enough to share a stage in New York.”… It was an introduction to a series of five books where he invites musicians to write about what they do to bridge the gap between people writing intelligently about music that defines categorisation. In it Zorn is so articulate and he describes the problem of people not being able to intelligently write about what it people are doing, and I think if you’ve made some music and you’ve tried to make yourself understood in whatever way possible. Zorn doesn’t hide his influences; he doesn’t hide where he’s stolen things from. If you look in the liner notes to some of his classical works, the string quartets and piano and orchestra stuff he states where his influences come from, what works of art have influenced him, writers, poets, sculptures. So for somebody like Zorn, who’s written down very articulately where things come from, to then read a review that wants to ignore all that and place it in something (a genre) the reviewer is familiar with. I can understand that frustration.”
There is no mistaking that Montauk Variations – from the opening notes of ‘Air’ through to a rousing reading of ‘Smile’ that Bourne envisaged back in the big apple would close this clutter of grand improv – fights to flatten-out such frustration and also extinguish any expectations. On close inspection, and because, as he reveals “musically, a lot of things that seem to come out on this album relate to British composers, early, twentieth-century composers like Frank Bridge”. it could almost be seen as Bourne’s jailbreak from the jaws of jazz critics that think they have him pinned down as ” a wildcard, maverick jazz pianist” and arrive as simply as one of the finest musicians and composers to emerge ‘out of jazz’ in the last ten years. Now that would be more fitting.