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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: A Standing Eight

Reissuing Rahsaan Roland Kirk in the 1990s has a special resonance, and not only because his towering spiritual presence has been somewhat overlooked in the neo-classical revival.

With varying degrees of success, jazz artists today are packaged and processed in any number of crossover veins, attempting to capture an elusive hook.

Rahsaan in his hey day always incorporated diverse elements, especially with a nod to hip popular culture, but managed to seamlessly bring his warm jazz spirit and an inherent soulful, yearning outlook to bear.

These discs perfectly demonstrate these aspects of Rahsaan’s conception, and they are worth listening to beyond any Kirk-nostalgia. This 2 CD set, latest in a 32 Jazz Kirk series, combine Rahsaan’s last three Warner Brothers albums The Return of the 5000 lb. Man, Kirkatron, and Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real. Return.., the last release before his 1975 stroke, and “Kirkatron”, comprised of additional songs from the Return sessions plus live material, are ample monuments. Kirk mixes these elements, with pseudo-hip poetic recitals, whistles, strings, Trudy Pitts’s soulful B-3, and vocal ensembles that at first blush seem square sounding, but actually are quite deep, into an array of spiritual grace. There’s a version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” at a time when Lester Young was really out of style, Bright Moments and Trane, and the sweet classic “Stepping Into Beauty”. But it also includes pop standards and contemporary fluff like “This Masquerade” that are transformed.

Boogie-Woogie String Along, made after his stroke, has Kirk’s sax less strong, but the feeling’s still there in an elegiac, all-knowing farewell, that is also notable for the presence of swing and boogie veterans Sammy Price and Tiny Grimes.

Originally Published