Ronald Kirk, Roland Kirk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a man much misunderstood in his time, but this video just might turn the trick in educating the world as to just what a genius he was, not the "gimmicksmeister" the gent too often was saddled as. Clinically blind but a literal dreamer—much of his inspiration came directly from dreams—Kirk envisioned what the sighted never saw, and this led to groundbreaking shifts in presentation, as well as the idea of what one player could accomplish.
The photographs in the 24-page booklet accompanying the disc are almost not credible save for the fact that the collection of performances starkly puts them to center stage. There's Kirk, on page 17 at the Konigsberg Jazz Fest in 1967, with over 65 pounds of huge horns hanging off him like metallic Spanish moss, but the earlier broadcast of him in Belgium in '63 demonstrates what was occurring: it simply wasn't possible for the musician to obtain all the voicings he wanted in a single song with just one instrument, so he played several! Makes perfect sense when you watch it happen. When the wild solos come up, it's understood he needed no gimmicks. Everything that might impress an audience was right there in those skyblown riffs and improvs. Therefore, the method of switching up axes and even playing two or more simultaneously wasn't at all a matter of ego or of deference to the supposed consumption needs of onlookers but precisely what his visions told him needed to be done to get to the music he wanted to make.
Watching one human being play three horns all at once is the sort of event one doesn't happen to run across very often in a single lifetime. At the time Kirk was engaging in it, though, it was the most radical wrinkle in the music world. It might still be. Then he'd pull out a flute and go to town on that, invoking the breathy talky style Ian Anderson later incorporated into his own work with Jethro Tull. Few, though, have followed behind Kirk. First, just to nab the flute innovations, one must be highly skilled, which Anderson was and still is. To go further that, a musician must also be willing to leave the mundane behind, which Dick Heckstall-Smith did, in adopting the multiple horn approach. Both owed a debt to Kirk, but that Rahsaan invented these things didn't mean they were reserved for him alone, as some purist crits have inferred. No art is of the artist. Each performer is just a conduit and must pass on what resulted from his own cannibalization of those who came before him.
Kirk, though, like Mingus and Monk, was so far ahead of this time—a transcendency he will most probably retain for another 100 years—that these documentations will serve as invaluable transcripts for future generations, material to transform their thinking. So riveting, though, is the man's playing that one almost forgets the accompaniments of George Gruntz (piano) and the others—almost but not quite because even Rahsaan grooves behind the rhythms and play-offs, and when the '67 gigs come up, with Pedersen following on Kirk's even more escalated sense of melody, make sure the fire extinguisher's right next to the TV. You'll need it.
Links to the reviews of the other DVDs in this set:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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