Listening to John Otott’s new album “Unspoken” got me about Jane Swan’s famous quote: “How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” “Unspoken,” which is produced by Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, is a collection of nine songs that express things words cannot. Otott has teamed up with some of the finest and most celebrated artists around, creating a one-of-a-kind album. It is his best release to date and a must-have in any New Age music collection.
John Otott is a multi-instrumentalist and composer, and he has performed with artists as Lyle Mays (of Pat Metheny fame), Latin star Tania Maria, sax player Gato Barbieri, and Thelonious Monk Jr. His debut instrumental CD was “Exit Reality” (1994). More recently he released “Flying Machines” (2011) and “Colors” (2014). On “Unspoken”, he is joined by four-time Grammy-Award winning cellist Eugene Friesen, Grammy-Award winning Violinist Charlie Bisharat (which we know from Yanni’s music and Shadowfax), Grammy-Award winning percussionist Jeff Haynes and Jeff Oster, flugelhorn player and FLOW member. We must not forget Tom Eaton either, who produced the album with Will Ackerman at Imaginary Road Studios.
A Beautiful Night
There’s an interesting duality in the title. “Unspoken” is not just about how music triumph over words; it is also a comment on how different instruments complete each other, creating a sum that is greater than its parts. The piano is a great solo instrument. Together with other instruments though, it is like the piano express even more – telling stories that were previously “unspoken.” You’ll notice this on every track on the album.
The first piece is called “A Beautiful Night.” There’s a humble quality in all Otott’s music. That is also the case here; gentle, so gentle the song gains momentum, masterly accompanied by Oster, Bisharat and Friesen. Even among Grammy winners, John’s piano shines brightly. It is a romantic and memorable song with a wonderful, neo-classical sound. With this on your loudspeakers, any night will be beautiful for sure.
This episode of our podcast – which came no. 4 on Mixcloud’s global chart for classical, is dedicated to “Unspoken”:
Sunrise in Avalon
“Sunrise in Avalon” is a winner from the very first notes. It rises with confidence and purpose, transforming any grey morning into a fairytale. Its happy and optimistic atmosphere is catching; you can almost feel the magical sunshine on your face. Oster’s flugelhorn and Haynes’ percussion are the icings on the cake. Brilliant!
Talking about Oster (and Ackerman and Eaton, who are producing); at this stage, a comparison to FLOW seems vital. Fans of this popular group will instantly feel right at home listening to “Unspoken.” Both have that well-crafted, Windham Hill Records atmosphere. I know Fiona Joy will not mind me saying that John Otott is an amazing pianist, so the FLOW debut album and “Unspoken” are very similar. In terms of quality, “Unspoken” also makes me think of Anne Trenning and friends’ eminent “Beautiful Song” album.
“The Dance” continues where “Sunrise in Avalon” left off. The piano and flugelhorn carefully lay the foundation for a very satisfying conclusion. The song almost stops – you think that the dance is over – then it gains speed again, leading us on. What a jewel of a song! “Pieces of Eight” is a more contemplative piece. Piano and violin is always a heartwarming combination, and the song is filled with life, colors, and passion. It is a perfect example of how two instruments together express something that they couldn’t communicate on their own.
Talking about what’s not unspoken; “Soliloquy” is the next piece. It has a well-made build-up and a great theme (that’s sadly not repeated). It starts with a subtle hint of melancholy, gently searching for something and not finding it. Then suddenly all pieces fall into place; the song picks up the pace, and we are rewarded with the before mentioned beautiful theme – featuring Ackerman, Bisharat and Haynes. It is a small masterpiece! And the best part; Otott has more in store for us. When “Unbreakable” comes on, it is impossible not to be awed by the quality of both the composition, performance, and recording. It is pure brilliance on every level.
“Emerald Bay,” from “Flying Machines” (2011), is one of my favorite songs by Otott. The version on “Unspoken” has a breathtakingly beautiful flugelhorn segment which enhances an already beautiful melody. “As Now, As Then” is a thought-provoking piece with the violin. It flows gently as the river of time. Ten years ago, today and ten years into the future feel somehow the same, yet we know that change is the only constant there is. It is the paradox of aging. Luckily Otott has saved one of the best songs for last; “Meraki” is a colorful piece, featuring a duet of piano and violin. Otott’s skills as a pianist shine and Bisharat is brilliant as always.
In conclusion: I’ll end where I started; with the Swan quote on how music may express our deepest feelings – even without lyrics. Music truly is a universal language. Indeed, John Otott’s “Unspoken” takes it one step further. When a long-time solo pianist invites other artists and instruments into the studio, new and different stories are told. For Otott fans, “Unspoken” is like a dream come true. He shows that he is on par with the A-list performers in the studio, delivering his best album so far. That is a significant accomplishment!
Score: 96/100 – See how I rate music here