If this tribute album consisting of 13 compositions by the incomparable Rahsaan Roland Kirk seems to roam widely over the musical map, that’s a pretty fair description of what Kirk himself did for nearly two decades before his untimely death in December 1977 at age 41. While the listener may have admired or been repelled by Kirk’s music, he couldn’t simply slap on a label and be done with it. Kirk transcended labels as surely as he defied description. Blind since age two, he mastered the tenor saxophone early, then, restless soul that he was, branched out into more exotic territory, playing such obscure instruments as the manzello and stritch (often simultaneously with the tenor), as well as the siren whistle, nose flute, piccolo, harmonica, clavette and some homemade devices including the trumpophone, slidesophone, black puzzle flute and black mystery pipes. These were more than gimmicks — the fact is, Kirk played every one of those instruments much better than his critics were willing to concede, and played tenor, when he chose to, as well as most of his contemporaries. And when Kirk chose to write straight–ahead Jazz, he could be as inventively lyrical as anyone in the lab (“My Delight,” “Beautiful Edith,” “Bright Moments,” “Blue Rol,” “April Morning,” “Serenade to a Cuckoo” and “The Haunted Melody” are about as warm and graceful as songs can be). Even when Kirk ventured farther out on a limb (as, for example, on “Gifts and Messages,” “No Tonic Prez” or “Rip, Rig, and Panic”) he never did so without a safety net. They may be a touch more dissonant, but the Jazz roots remain firm and accessible. In bowing to Kirk, Metropolitan Records has assembled a heavy–hitting lineup that makes every time at bat productive. While these truly are all–star groups (the sidemen appear in various configurations) in which everyone plays his role exceedingly well, special mention must be made of the late Jaki Byard’s fabulous solo piano version of “Bright Moments,” John Stubblefield’s sensuous clarinet on “Blue Rol” (on which he must use the same circular breathing technique as Kirk, sustaining the climactic passage for 25 seconds), and the superlative solo work by Alexander, Davis, Handy, Lovano, Justin Robinson and Spaulding. An earnest and heartwarming homage to a true original.
Track listing: Gifts and Messages; No Tonic Prez; The Inflated Tear; My Delight; Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith; Pedal Up; Bright Moments; Blue Rol; April Morning; A Stritch in Time; Serenade to a Cuckoo; Rip, Rig, and Panic; The Haunted Melody (70:48).
Collective personnel: Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Dwayne Burno, bass; Jaki Byard, piano; Xavier Davis, piano; Jimmy Greene, tenor, soprano sax; Craig Handy, tenor sax; Donald Harrison, alto sax; Jed Levy, tenor sax; Joe Lovano, straight tenor sax; Michael Marcus, manzello, stritch; Justin Robinson, alto sax; Scott Robinson, baritone sax; Hilton Ruiz, piano; James Spaulding, John Stubblefield, tenor sax, clarinet; Nasheet Waits, drums.
Contact: Metropolitan Records, 317 Madison Avenue, Suite 2310, New York, NY 10017 (212–856–0131; www.metrorecords.com).