(Rahsaan) Roland Kirk – The Limelight/Verve Albums (List follows] – Mosaic Records set – (4 LPs)

(Rahsaan) Roland Kirk – The Limelight/Verve Albums (List follows] – Mosaic Records set MRLP 3006 – Four 180 gr audiophile stereo LPs – 1964-1965, 1967 [4/15/14] ****1/2:

(Artists include: Roland Kirk – flutes, tenor sax, baritone sax, manzello, stritch, clarinet, piccolo, bagpipes, castanets, siren; Virgil Jones – trumpet; Martin Banks – Flugelhorn; Garnett Brown – trombone; Bobby Moses – vibes; Horace Parlan – piano, celeste, vibes; Jaki Byard, Lonnie Liston Smith – piano; Michael Fleming, Richard Davis, Eddie Mathias, Ronnie Boykins – bass; Walter Perkins, Elvin Jones, Sonny Brown, Grady Tate – drums; Montego Joe, Manuel Ramos – percussion)

Mastered from the original analog tapes by Ryan Smith of Sterling Sound.

The word virtuoso is thrown around quite casually nowadays. It can be used to describe someone who has mastered just a few instruments, or perhaps some genres of music. The term virtuoso has lost a lot of its stature and certainly its uniqueness.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, however, more than meets the true definition of a virtuoso. Essentially blind from a young age, he played saxophones, flutes, clarinet, and the exotic instruments, manzello (a soprano sax with a flaired bell), and the stritch ( a straight alto sax with a large bell). It was not the mastery of these instruments that gave Kirk his fame (some said notoriety), it was the fact that he could play three-part-harmony on the three saxophones at the same time. Some naysayers felt that Roland put on a novelty act. Ignored was the fact that he was not simply creating cacophony – he was making deeply felt soulful music which ranged from the highly lyrical to heavily “grooved,” and moving all the way to the exploration of the avant-garde.

Mosaic Records has gathered Kirk’s Limelight (a subsidiary of Mercury Records) albums, along with his sole Verve album (recorded in 1967) for noted producer, Creed Taylor, into a four-LP box set with extensive liner notes and period photos. For those with an audiophile bent, this is a special collection as the LPs have been pressed at Chad Kassem’s Quality Record Pressing in Salina, Kansas. The 180 gm vinyl produces superior sonics, providing the listener a valuable opportunity to experience Kirk’s genius.

Ranging from the all-flute, I Talk With the Spirits, the free wheeling Rip, Rig and Panic, to the more straight ahead Please Don’t Cry, Beautiful Edith, the true “find” for me is the album, Slightly Latin. Here Kirk has both a brass section (trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone), along with percussion and a voice choir. The voices are arranged by Coleridge Perkinson. Perkinson had done somewhat similar work for Donald Byrd two years earlier on A New Perspective, which was most noted for the minor hit, “Cristo Redentor.”

The flute album, I Talk With the Spirits, opens the Mosaic collection. What is most striking about this album is the song selections. They mix show tunes by Gershwin/Weill, and Jule Styne, with blues, a tribute to Clifford Brown, and the original version of “Serenade to a Cuckoo” (which was later made popular by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull). Kirk seems to be having a blast on this album as he at times hums, adds lyric snippets, and runs the full range of the flute register with reckless abandon. Horace Parlan gets down with Rahsaan in a gritty “The Business Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.”

Rip, Rig, & Panic, the second album, is more than awesome as it teams Kirk with a dream rhythm section of Jaki Byard, Richard Davis, and Elvin Jones. Though only 36 minutes in length, it still provided Roland with the opportunity to explore a wide range of influences ranging from Middle Eastern, New Orleans, a tribute to Lester Young (“No Tonic Pres”), and electronic sounds (“Slippery, Hippery, Flippery”). His rhythm mates match Kirk in intensity, and Roland truly lets his “freak flag fly.” Many consider this album Kirk’s finest moment.

From 1967, the Verve album (written for Kirk’s wife, Edith) finds Roland in by far the most straight ahead setting. It sets a groove mood with a soulful blues based vibe, and Lonnie Liston Smith is a perfect piano accompanist for this session.

Slightly Latin also finds Roland in a boisterous place. You’ve never heard “Walk on By” this way with Kirk acting like a cheer leader. The voice choir is an interesting counter balance to Kirk’s wailings on “Raouf.” The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” gets an adventure into new territory by Kirk. “Ebrauqs,” one of the longer tracks, heads in several directions with African vocal rhythms, harp, and cool trumpet. Kirk shows his brilliant mood setting abilities on this track. It truly runs the gamut.

We lost a music visionary when Rahsaan Roland Kirk passed away in his early ‘40s. He deserves some much needed exploration from the younger generation of adventurous musical souls. They have rediscovered vinyl, and it’s time they give Rahsaan their undivided attention. The journey begins at www.mosaicrecords.com


I Talk With the Spirits – 1964
Rip, Rig, and Panic – 1965
Slightly Latin – 1965
Now Please Don’t Cry, Beautiful Edith – 1967

—Jeff Krow

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