Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet: Mercy

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 works.

Flanked by Hungarian pianist Robi Botos, Toronto born Bill McBirnie releases Mercy, an album of quartet and duo performances of well knows swing, bebop, bop, bossa nova and dixieland covers.

Four songs in, a Thelonious Monk rarity “Stuffy Turkey” shows why Botos is at home on this album. Botos plays “Stuffy Turkey” as close to how Monk did played it 46 years ago but Botos makes it his own.

McBirnie swings. Many may not consider a flute to swing but McBirnie and his flute swing on this album. His lines on the Charlie Parker classic “Yardbird Suite” are worth the price of admission itself.

When within the quartet setting, bassist Pat Collins and drummer John Sumner are excellent time keepers. Collins and Sumner are not pushed to the back nor are they sideman, they both accompany McBirnie and Botos, especially Sumner on the Sonny Rollins-penned “Airegin” and Collins on the Fats Domino-composed “I’m Walkin’.”

The duo songs on Mercy really stand out. McBirnie and Botos’ version of the ballad “Willow Weep For Me” could possibly be named the best track on the album. It is soft and melodic and gives both McBirnie and Botos a chance to really show their coolness.

To end Mercy, there is the Botos composed song of the same name. This is where Botos and McBirnie shine the most. Labeled as a slow rhapsody, the song “Mercy” is almost six minutes and it ends the album perfectly.

Flautist Bill McBirnie took a risk by releasing an upbeat, swing album. It works. Accompanied by the superb piano playing of Robi Botos and the bass of Pat Collins and the drumming of John Sumner, Mercy is not just a plate of stuffy turkey, it has cranberries and some gravy with a kick – it is a full course meal.