Talkin’ Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz
This compilation is brilliantly put together from a wide variety of sources; if you don’t know Roland Kirk, this is the place to start, and even when you do you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again. Kirk is often eyed with suspicion because he is best known for playing three saxophones at once, which seems a bit gimmicky and hence, so the reasoning goes, not to be taken seriously. The three saxophones were necessary, however: three saxophonists playing together wouldn’t sound like that, and they obviously wouldn’t be able to improvise in unison! Kirk was a showman, of course, but he was also a genius, and you don’t have to dig down very far beneath all the craziness to discover probably the most unrestrained and unpredictable improviser jazz ever knew; Kirk could take a solo anywhere, and usually did. The music on this compilation is incredibly diverse, and there are no weak moments, but two tracks in particular deserve to be mentioned: ‘Get in the basement’, where Kirk demonstrates his abilities as a tenor player with straight-ahead jazz backing, and the evocative and utterly surreal ‘Berkshire Blues’, which he sings.
A Meeting of the Times
Kirk meets singer Al Hibbler, who made his name with Duke Ellington back in the ‘40s; producer Joel Dorn described this session as a meeting of ‘master surrealists’, and that seems about right. Unlike Kirk, you might not have expected the veteran Hibbler to be particularly surreal, but he certainly is on this record: hearing is believing, and you sometimes have to remind yourself that you’re not ‘doidreaming’.
The Man who cried fire
A series of live recordings which clearly demonstrate Kirk’s ability to do the impossible, and the fact that in some ways at least, his playing went well beyond that of any other saxophone player. The highlight is ‘You did it you did it’, a blues he simultaneously sings and plays on flute, which is so intense in places that it is almost disturbing to listen to, especially when he starts crying out ‘somebody help me’. The album is heavily edited from a variety of sessions, with an emphasis on Kirk’s announcements, but the end product is atmospheric and revealing, and there is no other way to get this often amazing material in any case.