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Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Brotherman of the Fatherland Print E-mail
Monday, 01 May 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    5
release year:    2006
label:    Hyena
reviewed by:    Scott Yanow

ImageRahsaan Roland Kirk was a true wonder. A master of circular breathing, he could easily play nonstop for 20 minutes on one breath. Rather than just holding one note, he often played furious "sheets of sound" phrases worthy of John Coltrane. Kirk could play any reed instrument in any style, a rare talent. Whether it was bop, R&B, avant-garde, ballads or even New Orleans jazz, Rahsaan was a master. He not only played tenor sax, clarinet, flute and various percussive devices, but also two extinct saxophones, the manzello and the stritch, which were close to a soprano and an alto. In addition, he could put three horns in his mouth at once and become his own saxophone section, not just playing chords (which is difficult enough), but sometimes creating several different lines at once.

I remember seeing Rahsaan at San Francisco's legendary club Keystone Korner in 1975, just two years before his premature death. He put on a nonstop show in which he improvised narratives between songs while creating his own sound effects with a music box. At one point he played the ballad "If I Loved You" and went out into the audience, playing his tenor with one hand while shaking people's hands at the same time. And he was blind.

Because he could do so much at such a startling level, the jazz world often did not take Rahsaan Roland Kirk that seriously, treating him like a novelty act despite the fact that on tenor he could "cut" nearly any other player. But those who were lucky enough to see Rahsaan will never forget how amazing he was.
Brotherman in the Fatherland is a previously unreleased concert recording from a 1972 performance in Germany. Kirk is in typically wondrous form. He is quite soulful on "Make It With You," shows on "Pedal Up" how much can be made out of one chord, and plays some dazzling flute on a medley of "Seasons" and his "Serenade to a Cuckoo," making all types of highly expressive sounds. He begins the set with a version of "Like Sonny," a song recorded by John Coltrane in the 1950s, and concludes the performance with a medley of three numbers associated with Coltrane: "Lush Life," "Afro Blue" and "Blue Trane." At times Rahsaan sounds nearly like 'Trane (particularly when playing the soprano-sounding stritch on "Afro Blue"), except that Coltrane did not use circular breathing.

Kirk is joined by a four-piece rhythm section, with the McCoy Tyner-inspired pianist Ron Burton making a particularly strong impression. But the main reason to acquire this oddly-named CD is for the remarkable saxophonist. Rahsaan really stretches out on the 17-minute "Blue Trane," taking a 12-minute solo that can only be called stunning. One can hear the influence of Johnny Griffin on his sound part of the time, but no one quite had his musical imagination or technique. After hearing this stunning improvisation, there should be little doubt in anyone's mind that he was one of the giants of the tenor sax.

Recorded privately and before a large audience, the sound quality of this concert is listenable but hardly flawless. There is some distortion in spots and it certainly does not sound like a live performance recording would today. But then again, its historic value far overshadows its technical limitations, and it is on a higher level than listening to a typical bootleg from the 1970s. In other words, do not let the fact that the sound is not impeccable keep you from experiencing this concert from the unique Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

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