Roland Kirk – Kirk’s Work – Prestige RVG Remaster

by | May 13, 2007 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Roland Kirk – Kirk’s Work – Prestige RVG Remaster PRCD-30161 (Originally Released 1961)  33:19  ****1/2:

(Roland Kirk, tenor saxophone, manzello, strich, flute & siren; Jack McDuff, Hammond B-3; Joe Benjamin, bass; Arthur Taylor, drums)

A few months back I reviewed a CD by a sax player who overdubbed six or seven saxophone parts over his own to create a one-man big band. As impressive as that is, it’s child’s play compared to what Roland Kirk did. Playing three or four instruments at the same time (while blind!), the jazz legend made the insurmountable sound effortless. On the newly RVG remastered session with organ legend Jack McDuff, Kirk is a powerhouse, switching off between soloing on his tenor and his manzello (and his strich and his flute..) and playing three horns at once like a whole section. And while Kirk and McDuff may seem like an unlikely pair, their chemistry together is undeniable.

The first track on the album, Three for Dizzy, begins with blasts of tenor from Kirk and simmering-in-the-pot organ from McDuff. As Kirk weaves a minor key melody in and out of McDuff’s playing, the organist squeezes out rich, liquid lines. Too often “legendary” organists play their instruments like they’re being judged by their notes-per-second, but McDuff, trained first as a piano player, has an easy touch that values tone over virtuosity.

On Funk Underneath, Kirk plays flute as McDuff plays delicate notes whose sounds ring out like seashells. Building intensity, Kirk begins to form syllables into his flute, creating a charming and playful talking flute. Meanwhile, McDuff switches to gorgeous, minimalist comping that sounds like a quiet but insistent fountain.

Too Late Now begins as a ballad, with McDuff playing like a church organist and Kirk playing with breathy, Coleman Hawkins-esque tone, but soon turns uptempo. Kirk solos on his manzello, which sounds like a cross between a clarinet and a saxophone.

According to the liner notes, Kirk’s Work, is a bit of a lost classic. Whether this is because of Kirk’s large output or the perception of McDuff and Kirk as an odd pairing, the bottom line is that the album speaks for itself. Lyrical, energetic, and charming, Kirk’s Work comes highly recommended.

TrackList: Three for Dizzy, Makin’ Whoopee, Funk Underneath, Kirk’s Work, Doin’ The Sixty Eight, Too Late Now, Skater’s Waltz.

– Daniel Krow

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