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Rahsaan Roland Kirk / Yusef Lateef: Separate But Equal

Robert Spencer By

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Back in the days when Joel Dorn, the 32 Jazz majordomo, walked the hallowed hall of Atlantic Records, he nourished the hope someday to bring two of the most luminous exponents of Great Black Music, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef, together in the studio. Alas, Kirk took ill and ultimately died before Dorn's vision could be realized, so this reissue is the next best thing: Kirk's The Case of the 3-Sided Dream in Audio Color packaged together with Lateef's Part of the Search as a two-disc set, Separate But Equal. Certainly there are immediate similarities between the two sets: both feature vertiginous chatter, groove- and hook-laden music, bits of period guitar, imaginative and unusual covers, and, of course, great playing.

For sound effects, Rahsaan's disc takes the prize, for the rhythmic dog barking on "Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs" and the galloping herd of "Horses." For covers, his two takes of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" are hard to beat. The first is a wondrously swinging blues; the second is more rocking and free, even reminiscent of some of Miles' fusion apocalypses of those days. Kirk even quotes the Archie Bunker theme song at the beginning of the second take. Lateef's doo-wop "In the Still of the Night" is as offbeat, in a completely different direction, and as successful.

Most striking about Dream is that Kirk plays trumpet on it, along with the usual array of outlandish and ordinary reeds (tenor sax, bass sax, stritchaphone, and manzello, along with flute). His trumpet is muted but not as overtly Milesian as that of many. As usual with Kirk, the backgrounds are generally funky and indebted to the pop funk of the late Sixties and early Seventies, but the virtuosity he lays over those grooves is like nothing out of James Brown.

Lateef's disc has fewer covers, although the originals breathe the air of an earlier era, beginning with Kenny Barron's "K.C. Shuffle," a flashy r&b excursion. "Lunceford Prance" is a retro-swing dance number, long before retro-swing was cool; Lateef sounds utterly convincing in settings like these, perhaps owing to the fact that he came up playing this sort of music and remains, at least on discs like these, one of its unsung exponents. Lateef's more serious side comes forth on minor numbers like "Soul's Bakery," on which his tenor discourses querulously over a rhythm ostinato. Only one of the numbers, "Gettin' Sentimental," is over five minutes long, and the large ensemble here is as tight as Lateef always ensures: they get in, establish themselves, and don't waste time with needless emoting.

Most Kirkian is the joky "Superfine," although the whole disc is characterized by the serious comedy and slapdash precision that distinguish the best of Kirk. Dorn had a good idea, from the sound of these two discs, and he was wise to put them together.


Title: Separate But Equal | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: 32 Records


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