Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Roland Kirk with Jack McDuff—Kirk’s Work (Prestige)
Reading the liner notes to this Rudy Van Gelder remaster, I learned that Roland Kirk had a bit of “novelty act” stigma. I guess the sight of a big blind guy blowing on any number of wind and brass instruments out of any number of orifices was difficult for people to take seriously back in 1961. All I know is Roland Kirk rocked really hard. His flash, showmanship, and pioneering spirit definitely appealed to certain players on the adventurous fringes of rock in the late ’60s. I’m thinking of Ian Anderson, who borrowed Kirk’s vocalizing flute style and adapted a couple of his signature tunes, as well as the Kirk-style twin-sax attack of Van der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson. Rock music and Kirk’s brand of jazz also shared a blues foundation. It doesn’t get any more down and dirty than “Doing the Sixty-Eight” or “Funk Underneath” off Kirk’s Work. “Funk Underneath” is an especially interesting track, with its shifting moods. Kirk leads off on flute, tentative and coy. When Jack McDuff takes over on organ, working overtop the marauding bass line, the tune toughens up and turns into something that I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. McDuff shares billing with Kirk, and his Hammond lends a pervasive sense of menace laced with ’60s cool. (I’ve discovered recently that jazz organ is one of my favourite things on earth. Larry Young, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff—they’re all killer. I’m up for more recommendations.) The double shot off the top of the album features my favourite tracks. “Three for Dizzy” sounds like the theme to a spy flick, all dramatic sax stabs and slinky melodies. In contrast, the version of “Makin’ Whoopee”that follows defines the word “peppy” and I’ll throw in the term “shit hot” while I’m at it. It’s the kind of live-off-the-floor mayhem that makes you want to throw down your chosen instrument forever, knowing you’ll never rock that hard. At a little over half an hour, Kirk’s Work is like the Reign in Blood of jazz albums, making for the best jazz fix I’ve had in a while.

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