Bill McBirnie — flutes (alto flute track 2); Bruce Jones — guitar, percussion, synths (all tracks plus vocal track 7); Robin Latimer — electric bass, all tracks except track 2. All compositions by Bruce Jones
Track Listing (Portuguese titles in brackets):
(1) Criole Blessing (Saravá Criola) – 4:36 – axé/samba-reggae (2) Song For Svetlana (Um Choro Para Svetlana) – 3:10 – choro/samba (3) This Passion (Está Paixão) – 4:38 – bossa/samba (4) It’s The Time (Saber Se Amar) – 3:23 – hip hop/bossa (5) Forever (Eternamente) – 3:29 – bossa/tango (6) Dreams And Light (Canta Canção) – 4:46 – ballad/bossa Bonus Vocal Track: (7) Full Moon Blue Wolf (Lua Cheia Lobo Azul) – 3:29 – bossa/samba
Toronto-based Bill McBirnie occupies a unique position in the flute world. A designated Haynes artist, recipient of numerous awards, and recognised by Sir James Galway as a master of jazz improvisation, McBirnie still fails to dominate the jazz flute world as perhaps he should. With Downbeat Magazine still making and breaking reputations in jazz via their Critics’ and Reader’s Polls, it is telling that McBirnie does not appear in either. The reason: the continued laziness of critics who choose not to explore too far out of New York — perhaps to Chicago and Los Angeles at best — when locating talent. McBirnie isn’t even American, however, being a long-term resident of Toronto where he has been a stalwart of the jazz scene for years. Even from there, however, owing to the oppressive immigration requirements to cross the border for a tour or even a concert, he is rarely heard in the US. I have been fortunate to hear him close up when we both sat in the Jazz Flute Big Band at NFA conventions. Apart from that, even with Sir James’ comments and nine top quality recordings to go on, Downbeat remains silent. But with a ground-breaking method book (and, we hope, a forthcoming webinar) which will shortly be recognised within these pages, students of jazz flute overlook Bill McBirnie at their peril.
Responding to Bill’s new recording FOREVER, I found that he had once again changed his approach. Working in a different format in each of his previous recordings, with a variety of excellent accompanists, McBirnie has, this time, very sensibly, chosen to work in a context applicable to the prevailing circumstances. As he writes: “Of course, with COVID protocols in place, we had no choice but to tackle this project remotely, which meant we had to exchange sound files, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, throughout the entire process. So it felt as though this was taking us…forever!…”
In this context, McBirnie has chosen to work with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Jones, who has supplied all the compositions, albeit in a Brazilian setting, and, along with bassist Robin Latimer, provides all the backgrounds to McBirnie’s improvisations. While fresh, the result has a similar quality to his earlier recordings, i.e. as I put it: ” . . . no gimmicks, no extended techniques, no political agenda, not edgy, not too loud, just lovely melodies and rich harmonies played with . . . consummate artistry.”
Another outstanding but often overlooked jazz flutist is Marc Adler from Philadelphia whom we have also recently reviewed and who also got to sit with us in the Jazz Flute Big Band. I sent him a copy of FOREVER to get his comments. Marc filed the following response:
“One of Canada’s finest musicians, jazz flutist Bill McBirnie once again brings his lyrical style of improvisation to a beautiful setting of Brazilian tunes in his latest offering, FOREVER. Together with Bruce Jones (guitar/percussion/synth and vocal) they take the listener on a serene musical journey – a much needed antidote to the stress of living through these challenging times!
“I was most taken with Bill’s solo on The Passion, a beautiful example of his soulful and lyrical style, peppered with bluesy references and tasteful displays of his nimble technique in the scaler passages played with lightning speed.
“Throughout, however, his warm tone and pleasing vibrato, sweet in the upper registers and velvety in the lower registers, add to the joy of listening to Bill as he interacts with the other fine musicians on this recording.
“Kudos to Bruce Jones for the compositions – all well-crafted with interesting chord progressions and melodies that delight and inspire. Along with bassist Robin Latimer they provide a solid rhythm section that grooves with subdued intensity on every cut!
“FOREVER is a musical delight that you won’t want to miss!”
We will give Marc Adler the last word. But watch for more on Bill McBirnie at Flute Journal!
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