Bill McBirnie and Bruce Jones — Forever (LP)

Bill McBirnie and Bruce Jones aren’t making music for the money. Jazz-influenced originals owning considerable debts to Latin/South American traditions isn’t going to make either man rich. The music on their release Forever is music made by musicians interested in Art, invoking a sensory experience for listeners and producing a physical response, and its seven songs achieve that goal. McBirnie has earned several distinctions during in his musical career, among them winning key National Flute Association competitions, and Jones’ multi-faceted instrumental skills deepen each cut.

BANDCAMP: https://billmcbirnie-extremeflute.bandcamp.com/album/forever

“Criole Blessing (Saravá Criola)” has a much more physical touch than any of the later tracks. Opening with a brisk pace like this is an energetic way to usher listeners into the musical world of these songs. The flute playing has a jaunty uplift without ever sounding saccharine. The crisp acoustic guitar presence heard in the second track “Song for Svetlana (“Um Choro Para Svetlana)” is more than a musical match for McBirnie’s flute. The interplay between them reaches its peak later in the song. The tandem produced this release and many will identify this track as possibly their greatest achievement.

Jones’ Latin percussion starts “This Passion (Está Paixão)” and the smoldering melody of its opening passages soon widens and relaxes. Synthesizer and guitar insert assorted exclamation points into the track while McBirnie breezes over the top. His facility for shifting gears in a blink is remarkable. “It’s the Time (Saber Se Amar)” weaves a soulful and romantic mood thanks to the laidback pocket drumming. The trio of McBirnie, Jones, and Latimer ride Forever’s best groove with an audible sense of joy. Let’s hope they get an opportunity to play this live.

“Dreams and Light (Canta Canção)” opens with a quasi-rave up from McBirnie that Latimer punctuates with well-placed bass. The arrangement widening its reach has a freeing effect on McBirnie and the rhythm section follows him without missing a step. Concluding the track with the flute alone, still playing with inspired elegance, is a wise move. “Full Moon Blue Wolf” is a bonus song, but don’t let that cause you to disregard it. It is a wonderful variation on the duo’s established pattern with Jones’ vocal performance, albeit in Spanish rather than English. It’s nonetheless enjoyable. The same comfortable confidence guiding the earlier songs is here as well and some listeners may rank it among Forever’s best tracks.

There are no holes on this release. Anyone who reads this review or about McBirnie and believes the music isn’t up to snuff isn’t giving it a chance. This is an unique take on what popular music is capable of encompassing and convinces even the strongest doubters early on. Forever doesn’t overstay its welcome either; you never sense any eagerness from McBirnie, Jones, or Latimer to prove their virtuoso bonafides and, as a result, the songs play like performances with audiences on their mind. There’s no ego-tripping here. It’s reasonable to expect these outstanding musicians will continue working together. Forever shows that, without question, there’s plenty of gas remaining in their shared tank.

Colin Jordan