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Paco Paco by Bill McBirnie

Canada has produced a number of fine jazz musicians, including some excellent flutists. Moe Koffman (1928-2001) was one of the pioneers of the genre, helping to put jazz flute on the map with his 1958 hit recording "Swinging Shepherd Blues," while Jane Bunnett is among Down Beat magazine's rising stars on both flute and soprano saxophone. Perhaps less well known, Bill McBirnie is emerging as another strong voice on the instrument as evidenced by this, his fourth recording. A mainstay of the Toronto jazz scene, McBirnie has studied classical flute with fellow Canadian Robert Aitken, as well as Charanga with Cuban legend, Richard Eques. Since winning the National Flute Association's triennial Jazz Flute Masterclass Competition, he has become something of a representative for jazz among the classical flute community. For example, he numbers among his admirers classical flute icon Sir James Galway who has made him the "resident jazz flute specialist" at the Galway Network Website. (Flutists check out: "I have to take my hat off to you," Galway wrote after hearing this recording, "This is great playing by any standard." At the same time, McBirnie is a member of the Moe Koffman tribute band, cementing his credentials on the Canadian jazz scene which also include his three previous recordings, two under the rubric of Extreme Flute, and one earlier quartet session.

For this recording McBirnie, (who has already been profiled on this site at: teams up with another top-flight Canadian jazz artist, founder of the aforementioned Koffman band, pianist Bernie Senensky. This was a great choice as Senensky is perhaps Canadian jazz' best kept secret, a fine pianist who is himself worth the price of the recording. Senensky provides unfailing support for the flutist throughout, in both quartet and duo settings--particularly on the latter which makes great demands on a pianist. His solos are crisp and fluid, and he also contributes the album's title composition, "Paco Paco," which is a brilliant highlight to the session. Bassist Neil Swainson and drummer John Sumner are exemplary throughout the tracks on which they appear.

McBirnie also enjoys considerable technical prowess on his instrument, which he demonstrates on several jazz standards, as well as Senensky's composition which deserves to become one. As I have noted elsewhere, one secret to successful jazz performance on flute is selecting appropriate material. McBirnie makes some interesting choices, including two pieces by Thelonius Monk. Monk is a composer most jazz flutists tend to avoid--one exception being James Spaulding on his 1989 Monk tribute album Brilliant Corners. The flute requires careful articulation to create a smoothly swinging line, and Monk's quirky tunes tend to induce stilted phrasing, a trap with which McBirnie flirts at times. He does better on John Coltrane's "Like Sonny," Sonny Rollins' "Doxy," Keith Jarrett's lovely "My Song," and the crackling "Paco Paco." He saves the best until last with a ravishing treatment of "O Grande Amor" by the father of Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

In spite of his somewhat isolated position up in Toronto, Bill McBirnie is making a significant contribution to the flute in jazz. Both he and Senensky deserve to be much better known and this recording will go a long way to accomplishing that.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bill McBirnie
  • CD Title: Paco Paco
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Extreme Flute
  • Tracks: 1. Like Sonny 2. Hackensack 3. Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus 4. Doxy 5. Bright Mississippi 6. My Song 7. Paco Paco 8. East Of The Sun 9. This I Dig Of You 10. Hackensack 11. The Great City 12. O Grande Amor
  • Musicians: Bill McBernie (flute), Bernie Senensky(piano), Neil Swainson (bass [1,3,5,7,9,11]), John Summer (drums [1,3,5,7,9,11])
  • Rating: Four Stars
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