Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Digging Deep

"True art lies in a reality that is felt." ~ Odilon Redon
Some artists reassure, others interrogate. The greatest can do both. Rahsaan Roland Kirk was never comfortable using hand-me-down tools. Instead, he forged his own to capture reality as only he felt it. Throughout his life he was constantly challenging perceptions and afflicting those comfortable in their complacency. And like another kindred spirit, Jimi Hendrix, he was written off for a time as a charlatan and a clown who was all flash and no substance. Nothing was further from the truth.

Kirk could rock like no one before or since, blending soulful jazz explorations with playful bravado and righteous political proclamations. He was so far ahead few could see his work for what it was. One who could was Quincy Jones. He invited Kirk to play flute on his 1962 hit, “Soul Bossa Nova,” also known as Austin Powers' theme song.


I've recently been listening to Left & Right, Kirk's masterpiece from 1968. He continues his forays into intense, explosive jazz playing three saxophones at once, a nose flute, a kazoo and digging deep into classical and pop. By using circular breathing, Kirk could play for up to twenty minutes at a time without taking a break! Phenomenal. He deserves so much more credit for incorporating found sounds into his music like ticking clocks and for inventions like his "black mystery pipes" before such innovations were as common as they are today.

Here's the master rippin' up Burt Bacharach's "Say A Little Prayer":

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