Roland Kirk (later to be known as Rahsaan Roland Kirk) is one of the most interesting characters in the jazz world. Though he is most well known for his ability to play 3 instruments at once (stritch, a straightened out Eb alto sax, manzello, a slightly curved Bb soprano sax, and the tenor saxophone), his invention of new instruments, and his charming stage persona, simply outlining his eccentricities does not do him justice. He was a very exciting improviser, and one who was capable in every area of jazz music. It may be interesting to note that he was blind for most of his life, from age 2 on up. It’s also pretty amazing that after a stroke in 1975 that left half of his body paralyzed, Kirk was able to continue to play the saxophone one-handed, since the technique he had employed all of his career called for it.
This is a 1973 live set recorded at Keystone Korner. Rahsaan Roland Kirk was obviously in his element in front of an ultrahip audience like this one, and it shows. The band is absolutely on fire, without a single bad note played throughout. In addition to amazing music, Rahsaan takes the time to talk to the audience quite a bit, and he’s very charming. This album is on two CDs, but it’s only about 80 minutes long.
Let’s break it down track by track:
(2:06) This is just Rahsaan talking the audience, and the band playing a bit behind him. He introduces the members of the band. The music is cool, and all, but this isn’t really a rateable track.
(11:51) This, on the other hand, certainly is a rateable track. This is a remarkable tune from start to finish. It’s got a great melody part, and a really swingin’ rhythm section. I love Ron Burton’s piano playing very much here, and he takes a great solo. Of course, so does Rahsaan (and he even throws in part of “My Favorite Things" as a cleverly placed little quote). After the main part of the tune, Roland plays alone on three saxes. First he plays Duke Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll" which is just wonderful, and quickly follows it with Beethoven’s “Fuer Elise". Awesome, and one of the highlights of the entire two disc album. 5/5
You’ll Never Get to Heaven
(9:41) Track number three is not quite as good, but it has great things about it. It’s a Burt Bacharach pop tune jazzed up by Rahsaan and company. I don’t really like the main melody part, it’s just sort of sleazy. Thankfully, the improvisation is wonderful, and it takes up more of the running time of the tune than the Burt Bacharach written part. Rahsaan’s manzello playing totally rules. 4/5
(2:33) This is the first of a few spoken word tracks on the album. It’s hard for me to rate it, since it’s not music. However, I really do enjoy it. It has some stuff about jazz history, and Kirk also attacks some rock musicians and Richard Nixon. He’s an interesting guy. 4/5
Prelude to a Kiss
(5:03) This is just Ron and Rahsaan (on just tenor) now, playing a beautiful Duke Ellington tune. Kirk was always fond of Ellington’s work, and he’s always had a remarkable ability to interpret it. Mr. Burton’s no slouch either, and the two musicians complement each other very, very well. He finishes it off by repeating some words from “Clickety Clack". 5/5
Talk (Electric Nose)
(2:35) Another spoken word part, but this one sounds less written out, and more off the cuff. It starts out describing the dangers of too much technology, and then he goes on to talk about how neglected the nose is as a part of the human body. It’s basically a lead in for the next track, but it’s quite humorous. Like I said, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a charming fellow. 4/5
Fly Town Nose Blues
(8:51) This is wild, crazy, but these guys don’t play like kids. Whoo. Rahsaan plays nose flute (I don’t know what this instrument looks like or how it works, so don’t even ask) on this one, and it’s really cool. We also hear from Todd Barkan on the synthesizer for his first and last track. It’s incredibly soulful and bluesy, and it’s also a little silly and out there. Rahsaan takes a really long solo, then Ron Burton and Todd sort of duet for a bit. The improv is as good as we’ve come to expect from the other tunes on the album. After the improv is the main melody again, then Rahsaan talks for a bit, saying that the band should give the audience a simple message that everyone in the universe can understand. The entire band then plays a major scale. I love this track, and it’s the perfect thing to close the first disc. 5/5
Talk (Bright Moments)
(3:30) This is another spoken word track, and my favorite of all of the spoken word ones. It’s about “bright moments", or little things in peoples’ lives that are wonderful. It’s inspiring and just cool. 5/5
Bright Moments Song
(10:07) This is a track that Rahsaan plays on regular flute, rather than that nasal contraption heard earlier. It starts out really lyrical and pretty, then gets upbeat and fun subito. Kirk also sings, but just the words “bright moments, bright moments, bright moments, right now" in between flute lines. I like the bass part in this one, and the percussion is cool too. Wind chimes or something, I can’t really tell. Roland rocks out on the flute quite a bit, and the rhythm section is right there with him. At one point everything drops out but flute and bass for awhile. Kirk sings again, and everyone comes back in, just in time for a great piano solo from Ron Burton. What can I say? 5/5
Dem Red Beans and Rice
(7:06) This is a great example of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s diversity. On this New Orleans type track, the band positively tears. Kirk is heard on his many saxes, and he’s got a lot of hot Dixieland licks to share with us. Ron boogies. They bring the house down. 5/5
If I Loved You
(8:43) This is a positively gorgeous ballad by Rodgers and Hammerstein. A stark contrast to the hoppin’ Dixieland of the last track, and the intense post-bop of many of the others, this is a standout. Kirk’s tenor sounds amazing. He pours his heart out, and also dances around the ideas of the avant garde while still maintaining a very listenable melodic foundation. Ron Burton follows with a very nice piano solo, but as always, it’s Kirk who makes the most memorable statement. It changes gears near the end, suddenly becoming more upbeat, and then returning to the basic idea of the tune. 5/5
Talk (Fats Waller)
(1:29) The last spoken word tune actually features some piano playing in the background. Rahsaan Talks about Fats Waller, a historical jazz organist. History is important, and the piano part is cool. 4/5
(7:02) Here’s a famous Fats Waller tune (naturally). It starts off with bass, and Rahsaan on manzello. Then the rest of the band comes in, and it stays nice and cool. I like the swells of the rhythm section, particular the piano part. This isn’t my favorite tune on the album. It certainly isn’t bad, but it’s not awe-inspiring like virtually everything else here. 4/5.
Second Line Jump
(1:30) A curious way to the end the album, but somehow it fits. This is a sort of New Orleansy one, like “Dem Red Beans and Rice", but it whizzes by in no time at all. It’s cool, though, and the crowd really gets into it. 4/5
This is basically a flawless album. There are things I like on it more than others, but it’s really a perfect performance from an amazing jazz band. I urge you ALL to give it a listen, because it’s wonderful, accessible, and unique music.