Bill McBirnie with Bernie Senensky – The Silent Wish – Review

Bill McBirnie with Bernie SenenskyCanadian flutist Bill McBirnie has returned with another fantastic album of instrumental jazz and Latin music. The Toronto-based artist finds himself partnered again with pianist/accompanist Bernie Senensky; the latest album being their second work together, following 2006’s Paco Paco. Entitled The Silent Wish, the album is brimming with Samba and Bossa Nova sounds, instantly transporting the listener to a Brazilian beach.

Bill McBirnie with Bernie Senensky – The Silent Wish

The album begins with an upbeat rendition of Ray Bryant’s “Reflection”. McBirnie’s superb soloing is evident early on, as he deftly navigates his flute over Senensky’s stride-style piano rhythms. Despite displaying virtuosity on the instrument, McBirnie is careful not to showboat; he is intent on capturing the emotion of the music rather than simply exhibiting his exquisite talents. Senensky then takes over the soloing, adding more of an idiosyncratic and rhythmic flair. Flute and piano eventually reach a climactic stop-time ending together. Luiz Bonfa’s classic “Manha de Carnival” is next, also known as “Black Orpheus”, featured in the movie of the same name from 1959. McBirnie’s lilting flute lines add new dimension to a recognizable standard. Once again the duo trades solos, careful to enhance each other’s contributions and not play tug-of-war.

As the album progresses, the listener is treated to more Bossa and upbeat Jazz, the artists covering a spectrum of emotions and feelings, mindful not to become mired in repetition. The tempo slows down considerably on “First Song for Ruth”, a composition by Charlie Haden. McBirnie’s soulful and moving vibrato punctuates throughout, taking the listener on a slow stroll through nostalgic love.

The pace picks back up on “Recado Bossa Nova”, the opener of side two, composed by Brazilian pianist Djalma Ferreira. Accented piano lines by Senensky open the track, enticing the listener to forget their troubles and dance. Their version of Paulinho da Viola’s “Dança da Solidão” is next. Atmospheric flute doubles with itself over roaming piano rhythms, nice extra touches that expand the sonic palette of the music. McBirnie’s soloing reaches into the stratosphere, without disrupting the amiable vibe of the track.

On “No Moon At All” by David Mann, syncopated contributions by McBirnie fall in between sparser accompaniment by Senensky. The arranging is strong on the whole record but especially so here; the contributions from the two musicians coming off like a pleasant and playful conversation. McBirnie’s original composition “Away From Home” follows, a melancholy rhapsody mostly driven by Senensky’s piano playing. Flute provides more of a garnish here, despite carrying the melody; this is not at all a negative reflection of the playing but merely a by-product of intelligent arranging. Sparse melodic input allows the somber feel of the music to really shine; when we do hear flute it is compelling and potent.

The lack of sonic variety is perhaps the only drawback to the album. While McBirnie and Senensky take pains to keep the music diverse, there is only so much that can be done when working with two instruments. Still, they do their best, and regardless, their performances are wonderful, with every contribution perfect for the moment, and not a single note out of place.

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