Bill McBirnie is a jazz and Latin flute specialist from Canada. He has studied with distinguished Canadian flutist and composer, Robert Aitken, as well as Cuban charanga legend, Richard Egues. Bill is known for his superior technique on the entire family of flutes (from bass flute to piccolo). He is also recognized as an accomplished improviser, notably in the bebop, swing and Latin idioms as illustrated by his recordings as a sideman with Junior Mance, Irakere, Memo Acevedo and Michele Mele. He has already produced two Extreme Flute projects of his own (namely, "Desvio" and "Scratch It!") and, most recently, a straight-ahead acoustic jazz recording under his own name featuring The Mark Eisenman Trio entitled, "Nature Boy". Bill has been chosen Flutist of the Year by the Jazz Report Awards and a winner of the U.S.A. National Flute Association's triennial Jazz Flute Masterclass Competition.
Following are just two reviews of "Nature Boy" (which has been spun on Bob Parlocha's syndicated jazz show and was voted number 4 in JazzFM91's Top 40 Jazz Albums for 2003).
The Whole Note Magazine, Discoveries - May 5, 2003
Independent and Small Label Releases
Extreme Flute EF03
Nature Boy is a welcome addition to my collection. Flutist McBirnie is just that: a Flutist, not a saxophone player doubling on the instrument. You can tell from the full-bodied tones on the opening track that this is a guy who has serious flute chops. McBirnie's accompanists on this recording are no slouches either - the Mark Eisenman Trio is one of the hardest swinging groups I've ever heard, live or on record.
Recorded in two sessions, straight to tape with no overdubs and few takes, Nature Boy gives listeners an honest portrayal of the musicians' skills and imparts an energy that's lacking on many jazz recordings these days.
McBirnie's selection of tunes would appear at first to be somewhat quirky: the opener is What A Friend We Have In Jesus. The performance here though is full of the warmth and gospel feel that this tune so often lacks. The eleven selections include tunes by Thelonious Monk (Monk's Dream and Bye Ya), John Coltrane (Lazy Bird) and Lester Young (Blue Lester). My personal favourite on the recording is the wonderfully languid, stretched-out version of Poinciana.
I highly recommend this recording; the music is joyous and energetic throughout. I'm just itching to play it for some classical flutists I know. I can't wait to see the expressions on their faces when they hear Bill practically turn the flute inside out on Teaneck.
Planet Jazz, The International Jazz Review
Volume 7, Summer/Fall 2003
Reviewed by Paul Serralheiro
Bill McBirnie's Nature Boy is an intriguing kettle of fish. It is very clean, articulate bebop. Very clean. Doesn't a charming paradox lie therein?
As a kind of protective "baptism" against the "evil" music to come, the CD opens with a faithful rendition of "What A Friend We Have In Jesus". But it quickly takes a very energetic plunge into the essence of bebop-which can perhaps be described as "drive"-a combination of unrestrained forward motion and imagination. McBirnie displays both on an instrument not frequently found fulfilling a bebop function-and he does so with a rare purity of sound. He can also cradle a ballad quite gently, as evidenced on the reflective "Poinciana" and "Beatrice".
If Nature Boy's wide-ranging tunes (we go from church hymns to Lester Young to Sam Rivers) could be said to have a theme, it may be found in the message expressed in the lyrics of the title song that closes the disc and which lyrics are prominently placed in the liner notes: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn / Is just to love / And be loved in return." That is the idea that opens and closes the CD while in-between McBirnie-along with Mark Eisenman on piano, Steve Wallace on bass and John Sumner on drums-swing back and forth from the peace of the church to the burning spirit of after-hours sessions of bebop-which is, after all, just another kind of religion.
Although I have performed on a wide variety of recordings to date (including my own more recent Extreme Flute projects), I have often been urged (at times admonished) to record an album of straight-ahead jazz with a good strong rhythm section. Well, I finally got around to doing so. However, the group I have selected for this purpose is far more than “a good strong rhythm section”. In fact, it would be better described as “the best oiled swing machine in the country”--that being, The Mark Eisenman Trio.
Mark Eisenman (piano), Steve Wallace (bass) and John Sumner (drums) have been working together for years which entirely explains the ease and consistency with which they are able to set solid and convincing grooves. Indeed, their individual and collective musicianship made this undertaking a relatively facile exercise.
The recording was split over two sessions--one afternoon with The Trio and one morning with Mark Eisenman alone. Both dates were essentially blowing sessions; that is, no rehearsing except to arrange the tunes a bit beforehand and to run down the heads before each take. Needless to say, Mark, Steve and John were so well suited to the task that, at times, it seemed as if all I really had to do was to call the tunes.
So here are the results of one afternoon with The Mark Eisenman Trio followed by one morning with Mark Eisenman alone. The performances, both by The Trio and by Mark, are most certainly a compliment to me. I hope (though with less certainty) that my performances constitute something of a compliment to them. In any case, I would like to thank all of them for delivering such polished workmanship and I would also like to say to you, the listener, that it was a pleasure and an honour to work with such like-minded and accomplished players.
In addition, I would like to point out that the engineer, Inaam Haq of Cherry Beach Sound, demonstrated a sympathetic understanding for the sound required on this recording. His thoughtful and considerate approach is becoming rather uncommon in the trade. Acoustic jazz calls for a measure of sonic, as well as musical, risk-taking that is absent in many of today’s recorded formats where punching, overdubbing, virtual tracking, looping, cutting-and-pasting, fader-riding and so forth are par for the course. Not every engineer is prepared to accept and work with the immediacy and uncertainties associated with acoustic jazz. In that sense, Inaam functioned much like a member of the band.
I genuinely hope that you, the listener, will enjoy the musical, as well as the acoustic, results.
Finally, I would like to dedicate the final track, Nature Boy, to my very own Svetlana because I know how very partial she is to melodies that are both slow in tempo and minor in mode but more importantly because, with her, I have come to a much more profound understanding of the last phrase of the lyric to the tune...
There was a boy,
a very strange enchanted boy.
They say he wandered very far, very far,
over land and sea.
A little shy and sad of eye,
but very wise was he.
And then one day,
one magic day, he passed my way.
And as we spoke of many things, fools and kings,
this he said to me:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love
and be loved in return.”
The quartet tracks (1, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9) were recorded on Saturday afternoon, August 10, 2002. The duo tracks (2, 5, 7, 10 and 11) were recorded on Sunday morning, August 11, 2002.
Produced by Bill McBirnie
Engineered & Mixed by Inaam Haq at Cherry Beach Sound, Toronto, Canada
Mastered by Andy Khrem of Silverbirch Productions, Toronto, Canada
Photography by Edie Steiner
Graphic Design by Bruce Longman