Team Gilliam/Martynec/Bill McBirnie Releases New Album

Gilliam/Martynec/McBirnie are responsible for great past albums and continue the streak with their new offering Outside the Maze. The ten song instrumental collection puts the focus on the trade off of ideas between the pianist Bill Gilliam, electroacoustic musician Eugene Martynec, and flutist Bill McBirnie without ever spotlighting one player above the rest. They are on equal footing with one another. These are not traditional compositions, per se, but rather than result of inspired improvisation that resolutely avoids any of the self-indulgent malarkey you may associate with working in such a way. It never sounds slapdash and boasts obvious polish without ever sounding wayward or diluted. Outside the Maze highlights the collective skills of these musicians as they are, without preconceived notions, but reveling in their group creativity as much as possible.

It’s impressive how seamlessly it comes together. The title song, for instance, takes on a clear structure early on despite the improvised nature of the piece. They reach several crescendos along the way before retreating again into more minimalist terrain while keeping coherence as a top priority. Balancing these competing elements without a free-flowing framework is an eye opening early achieving alerting listeners to the possibilities contained therein. It’s an auspicious start.

The second and third songs prioritize concision in comparison. “Warping Asteroids” and “Phosphene Delight” have distinctly different characters, however, as the former pursues more lyrical ends than the latter and McBirnie’s flute dominates the musical landscape. The second track is far nervier, though the musicians find a workable structure here as well. “Phosphene Delight” is far more outright experimental, as well, and its daring embodies the playfulness implied by the song’s title.

“Orbital Resonances” has an ambitious slant. You hear the musicians reaching over the extra mile during this performance, attempting to snatch the eternal from the fleeting, and investing it with an appropriate sense of drama. Despite the improvisational nature of these performances, many listeners will find it apparent that at least one member of the unit begins the performance with the seed of a central idea well in hand rather than meandering until inspiration strikes.

There are other playful moments. “Cicada Musings” does an excellent job of invoking our periodic guests without ever once sounding tacky. The sound of cicadas comes across convincingly for listeners and the accompanying musical ideas dovetail into the underlying idea with a completeness anyone will enjoy. “El Gato & The Mouse” is another moment that many listeners will enjoy. They achieve a satisfying musical narrative that tells its own story for those who carry to follow along without any pretentious trappings.

It isn’t for everyone. If you prefer conventional song structures with familiar turns, Outside the Maze will turn you off. However, if you are a music lover who revels in the art’s exploratory possibilities, flutist Bill McBirnie, pianist Bill Gilliam, and electroacoustic master Eugene Martynec will pull you into a world without limits. You deserve the challenge this release provides and won’t regret a second you spend with this spellbinding release. 

Nicole Killian

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Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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