Saturday, August 19, 2017

Roland Kirk - 1969 - Left & Right

Roland Kirk 
Left & Right

01. Black Mystery Has Been Revealed
02. Expansions
a. Kirkquest
b. Kingus Mingus
c. Celestialness
d. A Dream of Beauty Reincarnated
e. Frisco Vibrations
f. Classical Jazzical
g. Ellington Psalms
h. Haynes' Brain's Sayin's
i. What's Next-Overture
03. Lady's Blues
04. IX Love
05. Hot Cha
06. Quintessence
07. I Waited For You
08. A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing

Bass – Vernon Martin
Bassoon – Daniel Jones
Celesta – Roland Kirk
Drums – Jimmy Hopps
Flute – Roland Kirk
Harp – Alice Coltrane
Horns [Manzello] – Roland Kirk
Horns [Stritch] – Roland Kirk
Narrator – Roland Kirk
Percussion – Gerald Brown, Warren Smith
Piano – Ron Burton
Piano [Thumb] – Roland Kirk
Saxophone – Pepper Adams, Roland Kirk
Trombone – Benny Powell, Dick Griffin
Trumpet – Richard Williams

The title of this album, Left and Right, no doubt refers to the sides of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's brain, which were both heavily taxed in the composing, arranging, conducting, and playing of this recording. For starters, the band is huge -- 17 players plus a 16-piece string section, all of it arranged and conducted by Kirk, a blind man. None of this would matter a damn if this weren't such a badass platter. Along with Kirk's usual crew of Ron Burton, Julius Watkins, Dick Griffin, Jimmy Hopps, and Gerald Brown, there are luminaries in the crowd including Alice Coltrane on harp, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, and no less than Roy Haynes helping out on the skins. What it all means is this: The man who surprised and outraged everybody on the scene -- as well as blew most away -- was at it again here in "Expansions," his wildly ambitious and swinging post-Coltrane suite, which has "Black Mystery Has Been Revealed" as its prelude. While there are other tracks on this record, this suite is its centerpiece and masterpiece -- despite killer readings of Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" and "Quintessence." "Expansions" has Kirk putting his entire harmonic range on display, and all of the timbral extensions he used in his own playing are charted for a string section to articulate. There are subtleties, of course, which come off as merely tonal variations in extant harmony with the other instruments, but when they are juxtaposed against a portrayal of the entire history of jazz -- from Jelly Roll Morton to the present day -- then they become something else: the storytellers, the timbres, and the chromatic extensions that point in the right direction and get listeners to stop in the right places. This is an extreme for Rahsaan -- extremely brilliant and thoroughly accessible.

The 20 minute "Expansions" is like a jazz history lesson wrapped up into one tight little package. Listening to it - and to this album as a whole - leaves little doubt in my mind that Kirk could do just about anything, jazz-wise. Like a lot of Kirk records he's showing off an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and an ability to use it for his own means rather than to create some rote reproduction. Note that in "Expansions" Kirk and Ron Burton (piano) (plus other folks playing instruments that stand out less) offer up blues, bebop, stride piano, swing, and of course Kirk's own unique brand of the music all strung into something too fluid to be called a suite, as though it were differing pieces grafted together, but feeling more like stream of consciousness writing while retaining the feel of moving with a purpose and never rambling. But that's not all this offers. Side two, or the second half as it was known in the CD age, offers a Kirk-with-strings session where Rahsaan finds the perfect balance between sentiment and surrealism - a flute excursion where his tone, without going overboard and destroying the gentle beauty of the number, cuts through the strings like a serrated knife; a gorgeous dedication to Billie Holiday in "Lady's Blues"; elsewhere a lovely take on "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" where you'd never doubt his passion and also never mistake him for Johnny Hodges; etc. Main horn plus strings is rarely a recipe for music I love, but Kirk, as always, does things like nobody else and makes it work beautifully. A really fine one overall.



  2. This looks really fine! Many thanks!