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New Rahsaan Roland Kirk Documentary

“The Case of the Three Sided Dream” goes inside the multi-instrumentalist's artistic brilliance

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Jazz produced many multi-instrumentalists before Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and has produced many more since his death in 1977. But none embodied the idea of multi-instrumentalism as definitively as Kirk. His typical stage rig saw him festooned with a brace of whistles, rattles and flutes, and he played three saxophones simultaneously, harmonizing with himself on tenor and two lesser-known members of the woodwind family, a manzello and a stritch. Over the years, the polyglot nature of Kirk’s instrumentation has led some to dismiss him as a novelty act. The mission of The Case of the Three Sided Dream, Adam Kahan’s award-winning feature documentary, is to solidify Kirk’s position as an artist to rank alongside John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and other barrier-shattering contemporaries.

So consumed is the film by this musical canonization project that it functions as biography in only the most cursory sense. Kahan does incorporate candid Super 8 home-movie footage of Kirk, originally shot by Kirk’s widow, Dorthaan, but these images merely add visual color without contextualizing his life or commenting on the music he created. Dorthaan and Kirk’s son Rory are likewise interviewed in the film, but they avoid discussing Kirk’s identity as husband or father. Instead, they, like the film’s other interview subjects, including trombonist Steve Turre and pianist Sonelius Smith, keep their conversation firmly fixed on Kirk’s musical conception, prowess and legacy.

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