Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a man, at least by the technical definition of the word. However, the ranks of men are often left by a chosen few, whose very greatness elevates them to the status of genius, prophet, or legend. Rarely however, is a man considered all three. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, however, was such a man. A musical genius, Kirk's ability to play multiple horns at the same time was not what really made him a legend. It was his ability to play those multiple horns in harmony that made him a legend. His ability to play those horns together allowed him to create sounds and musical ideas that most people couldn't even conceptualize
, let alone hear. That is what made him a legend.
That and his musical drive. Many musicians, especially jazz musicians, have gone to extremes for their music. But few, if any, ever lived their music, with every breath, all of their lives. Kirk was a musical prophet, coming down off the mountain in all his terror and glory, to spread his message to all who had ears. The choice did not always seem to be his...at times it was as if he had an inner compulsion that can only be compared to the religious, to play his music, and to play it for people.
If Kirk was a prophet, then one of his followers was Joel Dorn. Dorn produced most of Kirk's Atlantic records, and now heads up 32 Records in New York City. It is through the grace of 32 Records, that we have been given a "lost" set of Kirk's preaching. Dog Years In The Fourth Ring is a three disc set of Kirk's musical gospel, with discs 1 & 2 containing live performances from a variety of shows from the mid 60's through the early 70's, and disc 3 containing the complete Atlantic recording Natural Black Inventions : Root Strata. The Atlantic album has never been available before on CD, and the live performances were selected from a series of underground live recordings that Dorn was able to gain access to.
The music on these discs shows Kirk at his full range, from the beautiful ("I Remember Clifford") to the to the intense ("I Say A Little Prayer") to the sublime ("Giant Steps"). The live recordings capture the raw passion and audio overwhelmingness that are a Roland Kirk performance. Lots of Kirk's signature tunes are here, as well as some of Kirk's funky interpretations of long time standards ("Lester Leaps In," "Freddie Freeloader," "I Remember Clifford," "Giant Steps"). Kirk is in his full glory on most of these cuts, with the live recordings capturing his sense of humor and the rapport his inevitably formed with his audience. The music is hoppin', and the selections here are from move than a half dozen shows, allowing Dorn to assemble the best versions of several of Kirk's favorites. The results are two discs chock-full-o Kirk at his best: wild and sweet, intellectual and emotional, and hard at work. Kirk was never a man to glide through anything. The extent to which he immersed himself in his music made him at least a co-title holder of James Brown's famed "the hardest workin' man in show business".
Disc 3 is the complete Atlantic album Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata. Dorn produced the original record, and always felt it should have made it to CD somehow. Well, proving the old moniker that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, Dorn secured the release rights to the album, and has delivered the goods. Natural was never a good seller for Atlantic, in fact Dorn points out that it was the worse selling Rahsaan record for Atlantic. However, Dorn argues, and rightly so, that sales don't tell the entire story of an album's worth. Natural has a real cult following now, and vinyl versions are extremely valuable. The music itself is all Kirk..with Rahsaan playing all the instruments on the album except for Joe Texidor and Maurice McKinley, who offer small accompaniment on percussion. But the music is all Kirk: passionate, funny, and natural. Kirk and his performances are a zen masterpiece...one never separating from the other. Kirk, the music, his playing, and the listener all become one, making the experience of Natural almost transcendental.
Overall, this box is a must for the Rahsaan fan. For the Rahsaan virgin, I'd suggest picking up We Three Kings, or the two disc set Does Your House Have Lions first. But once you've gained an appreciation of Rahsaan, definitely, definitely pick this up. The gospel awaits all the true believers
Personnel: Rahsaan Roland Kirk - any and everything you can blow; George Gruntz, Tete Montoliu, Ron Burton, Hilton Ruiz, Donald Smith - piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Henry Pearson, Vernon Martin - bass; Daniel Humair, Alex Riel, Richie Goldberg, Robert Shy, Sonny Brown, John Goldsmith, Jerome Cooper - drums; Joe Texidor, Ary Perry, Todd Barkan, Anthony Scott - percussion; Maurice McKinley - congas;