Virtuoso flutist Bill McBirnie’s latest instrumental collection has a lyrical yet autumnal quality. Reflections (For Paul Horn) pays tribute to the legendary American flutist, saxophonist, composer, producer, and bandleader through eight tracks inspired by his artistic example and personal life. Horn, a formidable influence on McBirnie and countless contemporaries, played with some of the 20th century’s brightest musical lights, such as Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington, to name a few, and continues casting a long shadow since his 2014 passing. McBirnie pays homage through solo and alto flute performances alike with great fluency that likewise highlights his own considerable compositional skills. It’s a worthwhile experience from beginning to end. 


The title track begins the album. “Reflections” utilizes key attributes that helped set Horn’s flute playing apart from the pack, such as spacing in the song’s arrangement. McBirnie doesn’t feel compelled to fill each second of the tune with his alto flute playing. It is, however, one of the more exuberant numbers included on Reflections, though it moves from an assertive first half into a much more meditative second half. The exquisite spacing heard throughout “Wind & Sky” embodies the track’s thoughtfully spiritually centered demeanor; he uses those elongated pauses with great artistry. It strikes an even more meditative note than the title track without ever exerting a sleepy effect on listeners. 

The alto flute returns for the lightly Arabesque flavor of “Masada Sunrise”. He continues to follow the arranging’s general template of melodic phrases bookended by significant pauses before and between each new passage. Those unfamiliar with instrumentals like this might expect a sense of sameness to dominate the collection, but cuts such as “Masada Sunrise” illustrate the full breadth of McBirnie’s skillset.

“Coral Garden” retains some of the same exotic character. As the track evolves, the song transforms into a more alternatingly soulful and playful piece. It is busier than many other songs included in Reflections. The busiest track, however, is the penultimate number entitled “Monk’s Strut” and the jazzy inflections McBirnie achieves during this cut rate among the album’s highlights. It is a lively and playful performance that comes at a perfect place this late in the release.

The ethereal soulfulness of the finale “Ode to Paul” is arguably the most impassioned moment. McBirnie returns to some of the album’s most meditative textures as his use of spacing and breath layers the composition with effects it would not otherwise have. Bill McBirnie divides the album equally between his solo and alto flute performances and proves the instrument is far from staid; you won’t find yourself longing for additional instrumentation. 

It is a worthy tribute to a seminal figure. Moreover, it solidifies McBirnie’s claim to being one of the foremost purveyors of woodwind instrumentals, a small group without question. He is a clear inheritor of a long tradition. His musical statements never lack imagination, and he comes across as a bottomless well of melody. Anyone who believes this sort of fare guarantees to be sleep-inducing will be proven wrong if they give these tracks a chance. 

Garth Thomas