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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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ROLAND KIRK

Pre-Rahsaan

Prestige 0888072240803

 

 

 



1. Three For Dizzy
2. Makin' Whoopee
3. Funk Underneath
4. Kirk's Work
5. Doin' The Sixty-Eight
6. Too Late Now
7. Skater's Waltz
8. Parisian Thoroughfare
9. Hazy Eve
10. Shine On Me
11. Evidence
12. Memories Of You
13. Teach Me Tonight
 
Roland Kirk – Flute, clarinet, tenor sax, stritch, manzello, siren, whistle, kirkbam
Jack McDuff – Organ (tracks 1-7)
Joe Benjamin – Bass (tracks 1-7)
Art Taylor – Drums (tracks 1-7)
Jaki Byard – Piano (tracks 8-13)
Richard Davis – Bass (tracks 8-13)
Alan Dawson – Drums (tracks 8-13)

 

This CD comprises two albums that Roland Kirk recorded before he adopted the mysterious name "Rahsaan": Kirk's Work from 1961 and The Jaki Byard Experience from 1968. I always think of him as Roland Kirk, not as Rahsaan, because I heard him give a stunningly impressive concert in the early 1960s, before he called himself Rahsaan. At any rate, he was a considerable musician whatever moniker he adopted, and one who continues to be underrated. Kirk is probably best known as a man who could play three instruments at once, including the strange devices he called the manzello and stritch. The former was a straightened-out alto sax, while the latter was a sort of soprano saxophone.

Despite these oddities, Roland was actually most notable as an extremely gifted jazzman. People praise such people as John Coltrane and underplay Kirk because he so often seemed to be playing the fool – for example, playing strange battered instruments and blowing a siren to signal the end of his solos. But if you listen carefully to this CD, you can hear a musician of great creativity. This is obvious from the very first track, where organist Jack McDuff plays a fairly conventional blues solo which is followed by Roland creating an imaginative solo which never once strays into predictability. He moves from a gentle, breathy Ben Websterish tone to a more outspoken sound from tenor sax and manzello together.

The first seven tracks originally appeared as the LP Kirk's Work. I reviewed it for MusicWeb earlier this year when it was reissued on CD. Roland takes Makin' Whoopee at a fastish tempo, illustrating his dexterity on tenor sax and manzello. Funk Underneath shows another side of Kirk: his ability on the flute. At a time when most flautists confined themselves to playing sweetly, Roland influentially showed how you could growl as well as purr on the flute. That tune, like three others on the Kirk's Work album, was written by Roland, displaying his strength as a composer as well as instrumentalist. The title-track is a bouncy blues, while Doin' the Sixty-Eight has an intriguingly shifting rhythm which hints at six-eight without being in that tempo. The most surprising track is Skater's Waltz, Waldteufel's classic piece turned into a jazz swinger, with some striking drum fours from Art Taylor.

The remaining six tracks come from a 1968 album issued under the leadership of pianist Jaki Byard. Whereas the preceding tracks were mostly bluesy outings, the playing here takes on a more challenging tone, with Byard's piano stimulating Roland Kirk into even more adventurous playing. The opening Parisian Thoroughfare starts with a thunderous cacophony representing Parisian traffic. Roland plays Bud Powell's tortuous theme at a remarkably fast pace, then takes a solo which spills recklessly across bar-lines. Byard's piano solo is equally enterprising: swinging relentlessly but surprising continually.

Roland takes a break while Byard and bassist Richard Davis duet pensively on Jaki's composition Hazy Eve. The gospel song Shine on Me brings a startling change of mood, introduced by Jaki's stride piano before settling into a boogaloo beat, with Roland producing some of the most muscular soloing on the album. Byard's solo sounds almost like a barroom piano. Thelonious Monk's Evidence is even more dislocated than many Monk performances: Kirk and Byard feed off one another, competing in boggling our minds.

Memories of You starts straightforwardly enough, with tender tenor from Kirk but by now you know the performance is bound to go in unexpected directions. Jaki Byard's piano solo challenges Art Tatum in its virtuosity, prodding Roland to venture all over the tenor sax when he returns to take the tune out with a cadenza which soars beyond reach. This session ends with Teach Me Tonight, which includes Roland jangling school bells. The theme is stated by Richard Davis's double bass and Jaki Byard's solo jovially emulates Erroll Garner.

With nearly 70 minutes of inspiring music, this generous album is a must for your collection – in particular, for the half-dozen transcendent tracks with Jaki Byard, whose wide-ranging talent and playful humour were a match for the same qualities in Roland Kirk.

Tony Augarde

 

 

 

 



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