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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Left Hook, Right Cross

Jim Santella By

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This set of two reissued Atlantic recordings offers a clear picture of what Rahsaan Roland Kirk was all about. Whether playing rough-house tenor, three saxophones at once, his searing brand of flute with vocalized thoughts, or the high-pitched ocarina-like nose flute, Kirk was a distinctive and highly unique professional. And he could connect with an audience. On "Old Rugged Cross" Kirk preaches to the listener and warns that "We got a cross that we must bear" with respect to the ongoing U.S. Civil Rights movement, and punctuates his ideas with symbolic notions such as a right cross, a double cross, and a crisscross. At the Newport Jazz Festival Kirk admits to the audience that, "We started off a little slow because I wasn’t lookin’ at my pianist and I been smokin’ a little bit too much." He adds, "I was totally blind when I came out here."

Volunteered Slavery was recorded in 1968-69; the second half was recorded live at the ’68 Newport Jazz Festival. Kirk’s use of several instruments at the same time stands out as a clear example of his work. The live audience seems to have had its effect on his energy level. In the studio, Kirk stays with the tenor sax and sings a little. The band puts out a rather sloppy treatment of "My Cherie Amour" while he sings the straight-up melody. Rahsaan Roland Kirk is no Stevie Wonder. But his spirited flute interlude pounds home the message better than any vocal aside could do, as Kirk saves the day with his spirited attacks and characteristic sighs. Similarly, Burt Bacharach’s "I Say A Little Prayer" goes for the jugular right from the start, as the band plays an eerie backdrop to the leader, on tenor, who eventually quotes from "A Love Supreme" and "Out of this World."

Blacknuss, from late 1971, offers a fair amount of R&B with its blend of organ, guitar, electric bass, and an emotional tenor sax. The program is made up largely of pop songs associated with Bill Withers, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker and the All Stars, and The Whispers. Cissy Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother, and a fine gospel singer) sings the jovial, light-hearted South African "One Nation" with up-tempo spirit and a rough ‘n’ tough approach. The program places favorite pop tunes in the hands of Roland Kirk and his band, who then turn each number into a unique adventure.

Track Listingfor Volunteered Slavery : Volunteered Slavery; Spirits Up Above; My Cherie Amour; Search for the Reason Why; I Say a Little Prayer; One Ton; A Tribute to John Coltrane: Lush Life / Afro Blue / Bessie’s Blues; Three for the Festival.

Collective Personnelfor Volunteered Slavery : Rahsaan Roland Kirk- tenor saxophone, flute, nose flute, stritch, manzello, gong, whistle, vocals; Charles McGhee- trumpet; Dick Griffin- trombone; Ron Burton- piano; Mickey Tucker- organ; Vernon Martin- bass; Sonny Brown, Jimmy Hopps, Charles Crosby- drums; The Roland Kirk Spirit Choir- vocals.

Track Listingfor Blacknuss : Ain’t No Sunshine; What’s Going On / Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology); I Love You Yes I Do; Take Me Girl, I’m Ready; My Girl; Which Way is it Going; One Nation; Never Can Say Goodbye; Old Rugged Cross; Make It With You; Blacknuss.

Collective Personnelfor Blacknuss : Rahsaan Roland Kirk- flute, tenor saxophone, stritch, manzello, police whistle, gong, vocals; Charles McGhee- trumpet; Dick Griffin- trombone; Billy Butler, Cornell Dupree, Keith Loving- guitar; Sonelius Smith, Richard Tee- piano; Mickey Tucker- organ; Henry Pearson, Bill Salter- bass; Khalil Mhrdi, Bernard Purdie- drums; Arthur Jenkins- conga drums, cabasa; Richard Landrum- conga drums; Joe Texidor- percussion; Princess Patience Burton, Cissy Houston- vocals.


Title: Left Hook, Right Cross | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: 32 Records


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