Bill McBirnie – Extreme Flute

Bill McBirnie

I admit that the flute is one of my favorite instruments. But this project is, hands down, the perfect flute album! Bill McBirnie’s flute work on Grain of Sand is singularly impressive. For me, albums like this one make life worth living for. Not all readers will necessarily feel the same way about the flute. Nonetheless, I would really encourage you have a listen to this album.

Bruce Jones and Bill McBirnie first collaborated about 15 years ago on Bill’s debut album, Desvio (which was subsequently nominated for a Toronto Independent Music Award).  Bill and Bruce had been collaborating for quite some time on Bruce’s projects at that time when, one day, Bill suggested, “Maybe we should try and do a flute-oriented project” and the first Extreme Flute project, Desvio, was born.

It’s successor, Grain of Sand, opens with the title track (which is a fado, bossa nova).  I was immediately taken with the enchanting melodies of the flute. And I kept listening only to find that there is an abundance of high quality musicianship, throughout the entire album!

The second track, “Se Eu Fico Com Você  (If I Stay With You)”, keeps things moving with a catchy vocal line that makes me wish I spoke even a few words of Portuguese.  The groove in this tune is beyond memorable; it’s addictive!  I found myself singing the vocal hook, over and over again, for about two weeks straight after my first listen, which is exceptional because, in my opinion, one of the true challenges for a songwriter is to catch the listener’s attention and to keep it engaged such that they remember that hook. If that’s done, well then, mission accomplished.

Bill described how the two work and record together: “Each track starts with Bruce writing, playing and recording whatever idea he has in mind.  After Bruce has laid down what is often a fairly complete track, we then overlay any flute melodies he has in mind.  In addition, we conjure up shots and harmony parts and overdub these.  After that, we go back and I improvise over the entire track.  Finally, we take whatever we have (…which is typically far too much…) edit it and mix it down.  Of course, we ‘subtract’ far more than we ‘add’ as the process unfolds until sooner or later (…usually later…) we find what we’re after.”

It sounds to me like this is not only a great recording approach, it also seems to work perfectly for the two of them.  Successful groups inevitably develop a special approach that serves either to make or break their recordings and, clearly, Bill and Bruce have nailed it!

“Carnaval Blue (Blue Carnival)” is another great vocal tune which really makes me wish I could speak Portuguese. The tune showcases their songwriting abilities and includes far more than just flute and guitar.  The flute work is particularly spirited on this one and will keep the listener totally involved, for sure!

“Vai Bem Devagar (Proceed With Caution)” is a more somber song which seems meant for contemplation.  Or, maybe it’s just about cheeseburgers!  (Just kidding.) Either way, it’s amazing how such good music can impact our lives!  This is a great tune which I have used for meditation purposes before starting my day on a number of occasions.  Absolutely, great stuff!

“Cê Tá Com Tudo (You Are Everything)” is my favorite…Groovy, catchy, danceable,…all the elements are in place.  And the flute doesn’t overplay as it complements the vocals with calls and responses and then, in the middle section, takes over with an amazingly melodic solo, only to kick back into the groove at the end. As I said, this is my favorite tune on the record!

I must admit that Bill McBirnie’s Extreme Flute album has sort of taken my life by storm. So I would say that, even if you’re not into Brazilian jazz, you really should give this album a listen, if only to expand your musical horizons!  And if you already like this type of music, then DIG IN, AND DIG DEEP!

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