Billy Bottle is a pianist and multi-instrumentalist, best known as a member of jazz luminary Mike Westbrook’s Big Band. Billy’s own occasional group The Multiple is led by the accomplished vocals of Martine Waltier and the rest of the band exude the easy confidence that comes naturally to the experienced players that they are. Unrecorded Beam is produced by Lee Fletcher, to whom I give my thanks for sending me this message in a bottle in the first place. Lee plays a much bigger role than that of mere producer, making his characteristic contributions with his electronic box of virtual instruments, as you can see in the credits below.
Let us set off on our journey of transition…
The beautiful gift of music that is the Unrecorded Beam comprises five verses from Massachusetts’ poet Henry David Thoreau set to songs, around which, fitting as snugly as a carpet of fallen leaves, is an utterly charming pastoral jazz symphony that transports the listener to another place, a place where time slows. Something of a 19th century polymath, Henry David Thoreau was, amongst many other things, a Transcendentalist; a non-conformist doctrine developed in the USA in the 1820s and 30s, whose ultimate belief was in “the inherent goodness of both people and nature”, a belief that the music of this fine album conveys in fine fashion.
With an effortless skill in arrangement to rival that of Dave Stewart, Billy Bottle has put together some truly magical music, which, as the subtitle of the album claims, is A Transformation Suite, both literally in a musical sense, and metaphorically, as it takes the listener away from “this plodding life”. Even when the good ship Bottle heads off into abstract territory, as in the latter half of The Vessel, there is an obvious thought process at work, as it never wanders off into formlessness.
Billy is a master of both the piano and bass guitar, the track Fog being a restrained but nonetheless brilliant showcase for both, wherein the bass solo melds seamlessly into a lyrical electric piano waterfall, backed by some great drumming from Gary Evans. The other star of this show is Martine Waltier, whose voice has a great range and can go from winsome to husky to edgy, sometimes in the same song, without once sounding forced.
The album begins with Billy’s spoken narration of a verse extolling the virtues of slowing down and opening one’s eyes to the wonder all around, a fine and noble sentiment that sets the scene for Martine’s dulcet tones to continue the theme with the lovely ballad Winter Memories. The first part of The Vessel is another confident piece of songwriting, the music backing Thoreau’s verse narrating the majesty of a sailed merchant craft plying her trade on the high seas.
Once your eyes become accustomed to the miniscule font of the typeface in the CD booklet, they will eventually squint into focus on some fine narrative from Thoreau, augmented in O Nature with additional lyrics by Billy and Martine.
The lo-fi video above gives some idea of the wistful loveliness that awaits you, but go to the Bandcamp stream of this piece for a better audio experience.
Bookended by instrumental pieces Inward and Outward Morning, O Nature is as the title might suggest a lovingly crafted hymnal to the natural world. Inward Morning features some nice flute playing from Vivien Goodwin-Darke, and the song O Nature is a fragile-voiced jazz ballad, Martine’s delicate but no less confident voice adding just the right amount of winsomeness. The song eventually gets a tad funky, soprano sax and trombone blowin’ away in fine style, coming full circle to end on a more robustly sung exit using the same melody.
Outward Morning, the longest instrumental section of the album, gives the band a chance to stretch out, and they take the opportunity with relish. This is the most “Canterbury” styled section of the album, with Markus Reuter adding another layer to the sound with his sublime touch guitar. Some great electric piano playing from Billy leads the mini-suite along in confident manner, before showcases for the trombone and sax. Billy then lays down a subtle and intricate bass path, the spotlight eventually falling on Gary Evans’ fine drumming. Vivien gets to blow some more flute, before the piece reaches its natural high. Marvellous stuff!
The album concludes with two shorter songs. Mere Smoke Of Opinion is an agitated soundscape, the lyrics of which for some reason have been omitted from the booklet, and we end with Billy reprising his spoken word narration with Men Say They Know Many Things. It is indeed true that after all, despite humankind’s technological advancements “The wind that blows, is all that anybody knows”, as we bossa nova into the sunset.
I often find that bands pad out albums these days, and any CD that lasts over an hour is usually outstaying its welcome by the end, but in this case the reverse is true. The 48 minutes of this remarkable record whizz past, and I wish it could go on for much longer. Ah well… there’s always the Repeat button!
01. Within The Circuit Of This Plodding Life (1:39)
02. Winter Memories (5:56)
03. The Vessel (10:34)
04. Inward Morning (1:52)
05. O Nature (5:45)
06. Outward Morning (8:23)
07. Fog (7:27)
08. Mere Smoke Of Opinion (2:58)
09. Men Say They Know Many Things (3:33)
Total Time – 48:11
Billy Bottle – Voice, Grand Piano, Electric Piano, Hammond Organ & Bass Guitar
Martine Waltier – Voice & Violin
Roz Harding – Alto & Soprano Sax
Vivien Goodwin-Darke – Flute
Angus Menter – Trombone
Mike Outram – Bass Guitar
Gary Evans – Drums
Lee Fletcher – Digital Editing, Virtual Pipe Organ, Virtual Guitar, Soundscapes, Treatments, Additional Arrangements and Production Duties
Kate Westbrook – Voice (3 & 8)
Jay Darlington – Organ (3 & 8)
Markus Reuter – Touch Guitar (6)
Record Label: Leo Records
Catalogue#: CD LR 693
Year Of Release: 2014