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25 March 2018

Rahsaan Roland Kirk ‎- 'The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Atlantic Years' (Atlantic)

The cover of this compilation makes this seem like a fairly average cash-generating release, with forgettable graphic design and all previous released material. But as someone who doesn't own any of the original Atlantic records this culls from, The Art Of is a real treasure. It's well-assembled, and shows an incredibly diverse range of Kirk as a composer, bandleader and player. Like most of his records, the tunes are pretty evenly split between his compositions and covers, and there's raucous takes of songs like 'Sentimental Lady', Dvotrak, and Bacharach and Davis-via-Dionne Warwick ('I Say A Little Prayer'). We get a medley of Coltrane songs at the end of side two, from a live concert (as so much of this set is live, it really adds some energy to the mix). The Coltrane takes are fine enough, but they aren't anything I'd go back to; however, the medley at the beginning of side four, which is Kirk playing two instruments at once, is pretty great, with a wooly fidelity and occasional bursts of applause. I don't have any of these Atlantic LPs but I used to have a dub of The Inflated Tear which I would listen to while driving. That title track and its followup Ellington cover open up the second record, just as they opened side two of the original. It's a hell of a composition, sharply focused on its theme but then letting it's own weight break into the more melodic sections; it conveys pain, magic and relief while always in pursuit of beauty. I like Kirk's compositions a lot, whether they be spry, pinprick soundtrack jazz ('A Laugh for Rory'), or the Afro-centric colours that open and close the whole 2xLP set. 'Volunteered Slavery' is catchy, driving, and manages to quote 'Hey, Jude' though maybe that's just an accident - Kirk's voice is echoed by a rocking chorus and actually nothing else on the two LPs lives quite up to its potential. Side four ends with 'The Seeker', a suite of poetic improvisations which are the closest to AACM-type material I've ever heard from Kirk. Behind the verbal intonations of its 'Black Classical Rap' we hear extended technique and enough percussion and little instruments to at some points, actually sound like some electro-acoustic/concrete mix. The hard bop sounds from earlier in his career are spread throughout this record, but even in, say, 'The Seeker' movement of 'The Seeker', they are just passages of colour among a more beauteous whole. His own voice pops up throughout all four sides enough times that he starts to feel like a crazy companion. Singing a barroom drawl on 'Baby Let Met Shake Your Tree', informing about how the audience doesn't know about enough great jazz saxophonists during the Charlie Parker tribute in 'The Seeker', or just hollering and shouting in the backgrounds of other tracks - it infuses a great deal of personality into a record which already has it dripping off the music itself, no small feat for a record with a lot of covers, and standards as well. I'm not familiar enough with Kirk's overall work to know how his Atlantic Years stack up against everything else, but I would grab any of the LPs whose tracks are featured here if I came across them, for sure.

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