HomeMusicBill McBirnie’s Reflections (For Paul Horn) 

Bill McBirnie’s Reflections (For Paul Horn) 

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Bill McBirnie’s Reflections (For Paul Horn) pays tribute to the Horn family instead of Paul alone. McBirnie’s eight compositions honor Paul’s whole family, his wife, and two sons, but Paul is the focus. Choosing 2024 for such a tribute isn’t an accident. It marks a decade since Paul’s 2014 death and, as such, seems to be a fitting time for such a laudatory evaluation of his influence from one of his more fervent self-avowed disciples. McBirnie’s solo and alto flute performances spanning the entirety of this release more than live up to the lofty standards set by the album’s subject and further advance McBirnie’s standing as one of the foremost flute practitioners working today. 

He establishes this sort of authority from the outset. Leading off releases with title tracks is often a move listeners can construe as a sign of confidence. In this case, the material justifies such self-assurance. “Reflections” introduces both experienced and novice listeners alike to a template that, in general, McBirnie will follow for the duration of this release. The plaintive emotional nature of this performance will leap out with a single listen. Other tracks deal with the natural world and our human connection to such a phenomenon. “Wind & Sky” conjures spiritual overtones for listeners without ever sliding into pretentiousness and makes appropriate use of spacing to help achieve atmospheric effects. 

“Kitten & Moth” is one of the high points of the release. McBirnie develops this tune in a highly evocative fashion, never rushing it, and it stands as one of Reflections’ most fully realized pieces examining a moment in time that less discerning perspectives may overlook. Crystallizing the duet, of a sort, between a kitten and a flying insect has an almost Zen-like quality that touches on the spiritual as well. 

“Awakening” is another of the peak moments for this album. The spiritual aspects of these eight songs are never pronounced, McBirnie isn’t preachy even in an instrumental guise, they are far more personal. “Awakening” is a sonic testimony to one man’s impression of waking, both in a physical and soulful sense and has a vigorous touch that evades ethereal cliché. “Monk’s Strut”, on the other hand, returns listeners to the physical world with a satisfying amount of finesse and flair. Few instrumental performers, no matter their chosen tool, are as capable as McBirnie in balancing technique with pure expression. He never allows the former to dominate the latter. 

“Ode to Paul” brings the album to a thoughtful close. It’s a musical note of thanks to the now-deceased Horn that never relies on cheap emotionalism to make its point. His capacity for melody remains as bountiful as ever. It impresses even more when considering the improvisational nature of these performances. McBirnie obviously subscribes to the first thought, best thought school of playing, and Reflections (For Paul Horn) is an inspired recording from beginning to end. He touches upon the eternal and present in equal measure with the sure hand of an artist working near or at the peak of his powers. 

Heather Savage

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