Flutist Bill McBirnie is arguably the king of the indie side of the jazz scene, and his new album The Silent Wish sees him teaming up with none other than Bernie Senensky for his most focused work yet. Normally you would never expect that two musicians of this gravity would be able to fit into the same studio long enough to turn out a beat, but when it comes to jazz most anything is possible when the art is at the center of everyone’s attention. In that respect, The Silent Wish isn’t just a big moment for McBirnie and Senensky; it’s a crucial flashpoint for contemporary jazz itself.
Songs like The Silent Wish’s “Black Orpheus” filter old school bossa nova through an almost pastoral, removed lens that makes the music seem relevantly translucent. We’re not forced into any percussive grind and the melodies stay firmly where McBirnie’s flute is leading them. The experimental glow comes from Senensky’s end of the table, and while the two do quite a bit of musical dueling throughout the album, we’re never left to our own devices amidst all of the warring mayhem of the instruments. This is, unequivocally, physical music at its most surreal.
“My Heart Belongs to Daddy” satisfies any swing fan’s lust for sensuous yet ominous grooves and ironically sits between two of the more relaxed ballads on the record (“Cabana Boy” and “First Song (for Ruth)”). You can tell that McBirnie and Senensky were very particular about the arrangement of the album from top to bottom, and the fruits of their labors can be fully appreciated when listening to The Silent Wish from beginning to end without any external interruptions. I myself had a hard time isolating these tracks from each other after my first initial listen of this album, not dissimilar to a conceptual prog rock piece.
Bill McBirnie’s work has often been described as “extreme flute” by my peers in the independent music media, and while I agree it’s a fitting title I still feel it’s a little limiting in describing how full his sound really is. There’s influences from across the jazz and pop lexicon in his music, and his flute play is far more calculated than what typical “flute music” would imply. Extreme music requires extreme musicians to make it, and McBirnie (especially in the company of Senensky) is the kind of artist that doesn’t do anything less than go beyond his threshold every single time.
Saturated with experimentalism and hauntingly delivered in twelve tracks, The Silent Wish doesn’t let any of us down with its highly stylized content. Anyone who ever said that instrumental music can’t be prolific post-20th century needs to do themselves a favor and get a copy of this record at the soonest possible occasion. It’s a shining beacon of hope for anyone who has felt down in the dumps about the artificial trash polluting FM airwaves as of late, and what’s more is that it showcases two artists who have never received the credit that they truly deserve in this business.