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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bill McBirnie - Reflections (for Paul Horn) (EF, 2024)

By Don Phipps

A Japanese Zen rock garden is majestic in its own right. The stones, manicured and ordered yet free and flowing, seem to reflect a cosmic calendar where infinite time can be experienced within the confines of bounded space.

In the 60s, New York born Paul Horn, a jazz flutist noted for his contribution to the “cool jazz” movement (a movement ushered in by Miles Davis and his album “Birth of the Cool” and which reached its musical apex with the classic and much-beloved Davis album “Kind of Blue”), began to explore transcendental meditation. He was joined in these explorations by the Beatles, among other rock notables of the period. Horn decided to take his flute to India with the goal to recreate meditation within music. Thus was created the unique and recommended 1968 album “Inside,” where Horn used the actual Taj Mahal as a studio! Interestingly, he later recorded inside the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Kazamieras cathedral in Lithuania, and in the magnificent Monument Valley (with the excellent Native American flautist R Carlos Nakai).

Horn’s gentle yet profound music has been reborn in Bill McBirnie’s album Reflections (for Paul Horn). McBirnie uses Horn’s free form and unstructured improvisational technique to create music of innate beauty – with an intrinsic quality that seems to exist outside of time. Think of light appearing and disappearing through branches swaying in the wind on a sunny afternoon. McBirnie’s flute captures this fluid languid motion while simultaneously retaining the serenity of a Zen garden.

McBirnie uses cascades of notes, running up and down the flute registers, and combines this with short staccato phrases and silent spaces. One can certainly embrace the peaceful breathing on the title cut “Reflections.” It’s like waking up in a verdant and fragrant forest. Or the dreamy “Masada Sunrise,” which brings to mind Monet’s 250 water lily paintings, and the stunning variations they reveal of a pond at different times of day and different seasons. Or take “Kitten & Moth,” and its impressionistic playfulness. And with “Monk’s Strut,” McBirnie even honors Horn’s cool period. One can envision a smiling Thelonious listening to the skipping happy pace.

Recorded at his own studio, McBurnie writes in his liner notes, that “Paul Horn is unquestionably the earliest, the strongest and the most enduring of all my influences on this instrument, regardless of idiom.” Those who believe jazz can explore an inner voice will do well to experience McBirnie’s reflections.


billmcb said...

Thank you so very much, Don!