Having a ballad and a slow rhapsody on a straight-ahead jazz/Latin flute record could be a risk but, for flautist Bill McBirnie, taking that risk actually worked...Toronto born, Bill McBirnie, has released an album of quartet and duo performances of well-known swing, bebop, bossa nova and Dixieland covers that really works. Accompanied by the superb piano playing of Robi Botos, Mercy is not just a plate of “Stuffy Turkey”. It comes complete with cranberries and gravy with a kick. This is a full course meal. BRENTON PLOURDE (JazzTimes)
“I have been listening to [Mercy], non-stop, for the last two days and I can only say it is AMAZING...Fantastic!” SIR JAMES GALWAY
“Clean, pure bebop flute played with disgusting control and shameless ease. And then Robi Botos. That guy is a killer!” HENDRIK MEURKENS
Toronto-based flautist, Bill McBirnie, presents a handful of jazz and Latin classics in a whirlwind tour of everything from a cha cha version of Hubert Laws’ dynamic “Baila Cinderella” to takes on “Yardbird Suite” and “Moment's Notice”... In both duo and quartet formats, McBirnie dazzles...In every instance, McBirnie’s technique is flawless, dynamic and often simply jaw-dropping...McBirnie has been called Canada’s standout jazz flautist. I maintain he is one of the top two or three in the world. MARK E. GALLO (JazzReview.com
This indie release offers a dozen-track, dazzling display of technique, dynamic range and stunning musicality...This is not neo-jazz comfort food but rather a feast of elegantly executed ideas with a live concert vibe. Highlights abound. Quick-witted interplay, adventurous flow and sophistication. This disc’s a keeper. GEOFF CHAPMAN (WholeNote Magazine)
Bill McBirnie, comes out swinging in mixed duo and quartet formats featuring the unique talents of jazz pianist, Robi Botos who—together with McBirnie—craft a diverse selection of sparkling contemporary jazz that commands serious attention...With a crisp and fluid sound on flute, McBirnie succeeds in laying down the charm in an amazing performance that is ably supported by the gifted pianist, Robi Botos, as well as John Sumner and Pat Collins who round out the excellent rhythm section in a musical statement that is well worth the listen. EDWARD BLANCO (www.ejazznews)
I stumbled across Bill McBirnie while reviewing a new]Four80East album (Off Duty) which offered a rare find...The Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet and Mercy is an eclectic mix that is as echnically proficient and artistically gifted as any flute recording to date...McBirnie has the uncanny, ability to transcend styles, genres and format-driven radio with ease and without ever sacrificing his artistic integrity...Hard-hitting swing combined with a stellar rhythm section takes this myriad of styles and bebop-infused genres to a completely different level...You may have just found the best flute player to hit the scene in a quarter century. From a pristine sound to the skill and finesse of a surgeon, everything works here. BRENT BLACK (Critical Jazz)
There are both hard swinging and tender moments throughout, with alternate stops in between...A gale force wind from the Great White North that is anything but icy... IRA GITLER (Apple Chorus Column, Jazz Inside NY)
Technical magnificence...McBirnie is one of the best living jazz flautists in the world while Botos, also an award-winning pianist, is one of the strongest jazz piano players on the scene today. Together, they have produced a power-packed album that highlights their virtuosic talents. Technically stunning musicianship is coupled with powerful emotions that combine grace and beauty... PAUL J. YOUNGMAN, AllAboutJazz.com
There are few flautists in this world who can negotiate the harmonic language of jazz convincingly. Bill is clearly one of that elite club. Accompanied by Hungarian pianist, Robi Botos, Bill’s improvised lines are right on, propelling each tune with his trademark urgent and grooving intensity...This is a thoroughly enjoyable straight-ahead album which any aspiring jazz flautist should own. MIKE MOWER (Flute, The Journal of the British Flute Society)
Flutist-led jazz records are quite infrequent which makes one of genuine quality all the more of a find...The diversity in styles, from trad jazz to Latin, does not in any way affect the unity of the recording but creates a unique multifaceted whole, thanks to McBirnie's versatility and superlative musicianship. McBirnie is a well-known flautist with numerous recognitions and recordings to his credit and, on Mercy, he lives up to his reputation...He swings hard during the up-tempo pieces and shows remarkable sensitivity without losing the creative edge during the duets and ballads with Botos. ...All three sidemen demonstrate remarkable artistry throughout the set, both in the group interplay and when under the spotlight...An enormously and highly enjoyable experience. HRAYR ATTARIAN (AllThatJazz.com
Mercy includes works by Monk, Gillespie, Coltrane and Rollins , all performed by the charismatic flutist, Bill McBirnie, and the amazing Roma pianist, Robi Botos. This is bebop, bossa and swing performed with astonishing dexterity...McBirnie’s previous two CDs, Nature Boy and Paco Paco vindicate everything I have said and with equally enthusiastic reviews. It is obvious that McBirnie enjoys such esteem only because he chooses excellent repertoire which he then proceeds to perform with perfect tone, style and empathy....This is an absolutely fantastic recording... KORNILIOS DIAMANTOPOULOS (Jazz & Tzaz, The Hellenic Jazz Magazine)
Bill McBirnie weaves a magic spell as he embarks on a musical journey which stops at twelve distinctive vantage points...McBirnie has established an enviable reputation as a flautist with an emphasis on Latin jazz. However, here he goes way beyond that calling as he plays bebop, swing, Dixieland, bossa nova and a little rock 'n' roll by way of New Orleans. Not only is he remarkably comfortable in every style but he also elevates each to a high plateau...With each track carving its own beguiling niche, the music is, to put it quite simply, awesome! JERRY D'SOUZA (AllAboutJazz.com
...The flutist's self-produced, Mercy, is a true gem...The album comprises a series of duo and quartet recordings—duets featuring the unbridled talent of a young, Romani pianist from Toronto, Robi Botos—and quartets with Botos, bassist, Pat Collins, and drummer, John Sumner...The repertoire consists of beautifully chosen charts which highlight the flutist's skill in both jazz and Latin music...In an unassuming manner, McBirnie recasts the way the flute is played...Mercy is a record that flows in gorgeous rivers of sound, and one which defines how the modern flute can be played. RAUL D'GAMA ROSE (All About Jazz, Senior Editor)
On my previous two acoustic projects, I have had the good fortune to work with two of the finest jazz pianists in this country—indeed, anywhere—namely, Mark Eisenman on Nature Boy and Bernie Senensky on Paco Paco. Evidently, my good fortune with world-class pianists has yet to come to an end because, for this acoustic project, I teamed up with a relatively new but undeniably formidable talent—the remarkable Romani pianist, Robi Botos.
Not everyone knows about Robi—but certainly more and more are finding out about him. I have known Robi since 1998 when he first immigrated to Canada from Hungary. On the rare occasions we have played together—most were long ago as a duo at the former Rhodes Restaurant shortly after Robi’s arrival in Canada—both of us inevitably agreed that, at some point, we simply had to record together. However, I can safely say that neither of us ever thought it would take us ten years to get around to doing so.
For those of you who are not familiar with Robi, you will soon learn that he is something of a prodigy. For those of you who are already familiar with his work, you will be entirely aware of Robi’s full-blown mastery—both in terms of the instrument and the idiom—a mastery which he seems to have realized as the result of a rare gift as well as a deep dedication to his craft.
As I indicated earlier, this recording forms part of what is an ongoing personal “acoustic jazz series”. Like its two predecessors (i.e., Nature Boy and Paco Paco), the Mercy sessions were recorded over a two-day interval utilizing a quartet format one day and a duo format the next. For the initial quartet session, I combined Robi with two of my favourite rhythm section players here in Toronto; namely, Pat Collins on bass (who, in my view, has never been exploited sufficiently—either live or on record) and John Sumner on drums (who is yet another woefully underutilized resource with an equally strong and infallible sense of time). To Robi, Pat and John, I offer my sincere gratitude for delivering such coherent performances in just two short recording sessions—and despite having never played (much less rehearsed) together before.
I am also pleased to introduce Pacy Shulman of Hilo Studio on this project who engineered, mixed and mastered the album. Pacy maintained a steady hand at the board as well as a cool and attentive head during the mildly chaotic nature of these blowing sessions. Furthermore, his technical sixth sense was as often mystifying as it was an enormous aid to me throughout the entire process.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate the opening two tracks on this recording to the two jazz flutists who have undoubtedly exerted the greatest influence on me over the years. The first, Baila Cinderella, is dedicated to Hubert Laws who has always struck me with his impeccable technique and musical taste. The second, Willow Weep for Me, is dedicated to Jeremy Steig whose hard-hitting debut recording, Flute Fever, continues to spin on my platter after more than 45 years from the date of its original release.
In conclusion, I would like to dedicate what is the closing and title track, Mercy (a beautiful rhapsody composed by Robi Botos), to my wife, Svetlana, who is—and will remain—my soul to love—and who said to me, in utter astonishment, after the very first set of my first duo gig with Robi Botos at Rhodes Restaurant ten years ago, “Billy, you really must do a recording with this boy, Robi!”...So here it is, Honey Pie!...
I would like to thank Canada’s premier jazz station, Jazz.FM91, for their continuing and ongoing support of this music (...not to mention mine along the way... :-) and, in addition, Bob Parlocha, Sir James Galway, Robert Aitken, William Hoare, Frank Falco, Memo Acevedo, Louis Simao and, more recently, Ruben Diaz.
PERSONNEL & CREDITS
Bill McBirnie – Flute
Robi Botos – Piano
Pat Collins – Bass
John Sumner – Drums
The quartet tracks (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 11) were recorded on Monday, August 24, 2009. The duo tracks (2, 5, 7, 9 and 12) were recorded on Tuesday, August 25, 2009.
Produced by Bill McBirnie
Co-Produced by Pacy Shulman
Engineered, Mixed & Mastered by Pacy Shulman at Hilo Studio
Graphic Design by Staci Patten of Accurate Audio
“Hands” by Greg King
Bill plays a vintage Wm. S. Haynes flute with a Robert Bigio crown and stopper.
Bill McBirnie—Extreme Flute