Various Artists: Haunted Melodies Songs of Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Considering that Rahsaan was a one-man woodwind ensemble, one capable of creating striking tonal universes uniquely his own, it’s almost understandable that Rahsaan the composer would take second-stage. But as evident on this stirring tribute, Haunted Melodies, Rahsaan’s compositions simultaneously embraced Ellington’s elegance and Mingus’ brazenness that often resulted in jolting music that was at once irreverent and controversial, low and high brow, earthy and otherworldly.

Haunted Melodies plays host to a carnival of musicians of varying temperaments, while drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Dwayne Burno anchor most of the ensembles as they push and pull them through rigorous shifting tempos. With Rahsaan’s music being highly marked by multiphonics, the doubling and sometimes tripling of saxophones are necessary to evoke the music’s imposing majesty. On the beautiful “The Inflated Tear,” five woodwind players are keenly utilized to create Rahsaan’s braying wail, while “Rip, Rag, and Panic” scales-down the sonic palette by only using two saxophonists.

But bitching single handed woodwind solos do emerge out of the thicket like Craig Handy’s blustery tenor saxophone solo on “Gifts And Messages,” John Stubblefield’s searing clarinet on “Blue Rol,” and Michael Marcus’ alluring stritch on “The Haunted Melody.” Surprisingly, the best interpretation of Rahsaan’s music comes through from the late Jaki Byard on “Bright Moments” where the pianist imbues the composition with sumptuous angst and wry humor worthy of Rahsaan’s complex personality.

Haunted Melodies succeeds well above the heaps of tribute albums, because it thoroughly explores the depths and breadth of Rahsaan’s musical facet, but more importantly it aptly placed the polemic legend in a compositional context.