Technically his third album, following Introducing Roland Kirk (Chess, 1960), and a previously unissued R&B session (Triple Threat), Kirk's Work pre-dates the boundless surrealism of his post-Rahsaan era. Sharing the bill with organist Jack McDuff, the record is commonly regarded as a fairly straight-ahead date made years before Kirk gradually transformed from a stunning virtuoso multi-instrumentalist into an iconic musical shaman. While not as outrageous as some of Kirk's later albums, this sublime 1961 date has its fair share of unusual subtle surprises, providing a few early examples of the man's twisted genius.
Already displaying remarkable prowess on his menagerie of thrift-store horns (manzello, stritch, siren), Kirk displays each to its own effect. His ability to play two and three saxophones at a time is already apparent, although his mastery of circular breathing was still a few years away. He limits his doubling to supportive riffing, rather than intertwining solo counterpoint, but the distinctive sound of his massed horns is still present.
"Funk Underneath" showcases Kirk's nascent vocalized flute stylings, blending gruff vocalizations with soaring flute harmonics. The dark-hued title track and "Skater's Waltz" demonstrate Kirk's aggressive hard bop attack, something he perfected over the course of his Atlantic Records tenure as he ascended from swinging modernist into unclassifiable genius.
The rhythm section contributes heavily to the session, providing more than just run of the mill backbeats for Kirk to riff over. Jack McDuff's greasy down home organ instills the session with a buoyant sensibility, celebratory and optimistic. Benjamin and Taylor are a tight, snappy rhythm section, Taylor strikes hard and deep, sounding at times like Roy Haynes. "Doin' The Sixty-Eight" finds the rhythm duo deep in a pulsating polyrhythmic groove, dragging Kirk and McDuff headfirst into the infectious Latin rhythms.
A solid and infinitely enjoyable album easily overlooked in the massive and convoluted discography of such a diverse artist, Kirk's Work is more than just an embryonic session. It's an accessible classic, the sort of unconventional soul jazz/hard bop hybrid that only Roland Kirk could deliver.
Personnel: Roland Kirk: tenor saxophone; manzello; stritch, flute, siren; Jack McDuff: Hammond organ; Joe Benjamin: bass; Arthur Taylor: drums.