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Steve Turre Celebrates The Music Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk

AAJ Staff By

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Weigel Hall
The Ohio State University

The music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk came full circle on February 24. Steve Turre, a former associate of one of jazz' true geniuses, brought his Kirk tribute to the city of the blind reedman's birth.
In fact, during the introduction to Steve Turre Celebrates The Music Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the announcer recognized the members of Kirk's family in the audience. Quietly learning his craft while he attended the Ohio State School For The Blind and jamming very infrequently with local musicians like Hank Marr and Gene Walker, Kirk seemed to have arrived fully developed when he embarked on his own career of musical inspiration. It was Ira Sullivan who recognized Kirk's talent when Kirk was with the Dinah Washington show as it toured in Louisville. Kirk soon took up Sullivan's offer to record on Chicago's Chess label his first widely distributed album.
At the suggestion of jazz journalist Willard Jenkins, Turre put together a program re-creating the spirit and performing the music of Kirk. As Turre said at the end, not the beginning, of the concert, "It takes all three of us to do what Rahsaan Roland Kirk did all by himself. No one ever played horns like he did, and no one has ever since." The expectation of the audience was at such a high level that the people behind me anticipated Turre's words before he even said them as they recited in unison: "...and no one ever has ever since."
Thus, the tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk was in the perfect venue, performed by top-notch musicians who were truly dedicated to the musical intensity, anything-goes sense of fun, technical fearlessness and crowd appeal of the master.

With a minimum of introductions and an abundance of superlative music, the Kirk Tribute Band made no attempts to replicate Kirk's style, they being fully aware of the futility of striving for the impossible. Instead, they opened with "Three For The Festival," Turre on trombone and Gary Bartz on soprano sax trading choruses in one of the more conventional tunes of the evening. The evening-long crescendo had begun. James Carter, however, gave a hint of the storm to come with intimations of Kirkian fox-like craziness expressed through overtones, squawks and altissimo exhortations.

On "A Handful Of Fives," its 5/4 meter held together effortlessly by the rhythm section, it became apparent that the success of Turre's group relies as much on Mulgrew Miller's, Buster Williams' and Lewis Nash's drive and cohesion as it does on the voices of the horns. Williams in particular was a delight, his imperturbable stoicism a contrast to the crowd-pleasing appeal of the front line. After a few initial amplification problems, Williams' bass was mixed so well that his choice of notes became a delight in itself for anyone who chose to follow his work.

"The Black And Crazy Blues" was the beginning of the breakdown of the separation between musicians and audience as Carter's long clarinet solo started from full-blown, two-chorused exercise in tone distortion through a continuing loosening of embouchure. Then it rose to a crowd-frenzying array of vocal-like sounds involving triple-tonguing, circular breathing, slap-tonguing, squawking and the repetition of the same upper-register phrase over several choruses. Even before the end of his solo, the audience was on its feet shouting encouragement and thrilled by the heightening intensity of the solo.

As "Serenade To A Cuckoo" slid without pause into "Bright Moment," indicated only by the change to a Latin percussiveness, Bartz, quietly at the side of the stage until his turn to play, crafted a gorgeous solo on alto. The tune ended in a free-for-all among the horns before Turre started the most challenging arrangement of the evening, that for "The Inflated Tear." With a free, seemingly disconnected section of sonic effects—including tapping the strings of the bass with the bow, blowing air through a mouthpiece inside the mouth, unrooted piano arpeggios and shivering gong accents—"The Inflated Tear" settled into an exquisitely developed solo by Mulgrew Miller.

"Volunteered Slavery" evolved into another James Carter tour de force as he rocked to the gospel feel of the music and played the tenor for the most part in the pitch of a soprano sax. And yes, Steve Turre finished the concert with a performance on the conch shells, an instrument that Kirk inspired him to play. Variously alternating between melody and unspoken conversation on the horns from the sea, Turre even evoked a broad smile from the normally impassive Buster Williams. A particularly memorable effect was Turre's blowing of a shell under the propped lid of the grand piano, allowing the tone to reverberate from the miked keyboard.

After a wild and whistling standing ovation, Turre's Rahsaah Roland Kirk tribute band encored with "E.D.," which featured a dynamic call-and-response section with Lewis Nash.

The band gathered after "E.D." on stage right, bowed simultaneously and were gone...

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