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Steve Turre Honors Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Franz A. Matzner By

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If one has never seen Turre play on the conch, this is a truly amazing sight and sound to witness.
Steve Turre
Kennedy Center Jazz Club
Washington, DC

Whether it is discovering a previously unknown player or genre, or a new take on an old favorite, venturing out to live music leaves us open to discovering new sounds in one of the most satisfying ways possible: by chance. In the case of Steve Turre's recent stint at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club, that chance discovery was encountering a group of well-known players blending their voices in new combinations as they paid homage to one of jazz's classic players and composers—Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

To avoid—in his words—"a bunch of yak-yak" and to stick to the music, Steve Turre took care of the night's talking all at once and up front. After introducing his all-star line-up, including Vincent Herring, Billy Harper, Ronnie Matthews, Dion Parson, and last minute substitute Charnett Moffett on bass, Turre gave the audience a quick history lesson, describing the great Mr. Kirk's contributions as both a multi-instrumentalist and composer. Only half joking in his deep, gruff voice, Turre explained that he'd had to hire three musicians to do what Kirk could accomplish single-handedly, namely the startling feat of playing three instruments simultaneously. Continuing, Turre explained that all the night's tunes—except a dedication written by Turre—were Kirk originals and that Turre's intention was to draw attention to the breadth and depth of the man's opus. After that, it was straight to the music.

Launching immediately into an up-tempo scorcher titled "Three for the Festival , all six musicians jumped right into a series of big, blazing solos right out of the gate, setting the tone for the rest of the night's display of superb musicianship marked by unpretentious exuberance and clear enjoyment in playing off each other's ideas in true jazz style. Revealing his talent as both bandleader and composer, Turre switched gears on the next tune, a tribute written by Turre titled "One for Kirk . A complex and unusual arrangement, the piece distinguished itself with a faster pace, several unexpected turns, and an edgier tone than is usually found in the typical saccharine flavored homages. Setting a precedent that would continue for the rest of the evening, Charnett Moffett's clear bass lines, deep tone, and unique improvisational style also added significant depth to the piece and rounded out the excellent solo work by Turre and Herring.

Following this piece, the band returned to Kirk compositions for the remainder of the night, beginning with a slow ballad titled "Stepping into Beauty that placed the spotlight on Turre's expressive range on the trombone, before turning to the moody jaunt "Serenade to a Kuku and a raucous Latin-based romp on which Turre switched between trombone and soloing on a series of conch shells. If one has never seen Turre play on the conch, this is a truly amazing sight and sound to witness. Not only is Turre able to extract an astonishing range of tones from the shells, but the distinctive colors and textures produced by the shells creates a beautifully organic effect. A virtuosic and unusual display, this was one of the highlights of the night.

The band kept the energy level up and the audience moving in its seats with the next selection, a crowd pleasing dirty blues titled "Black and Crazy Blues" on which Turre again gave all six musicians space to stretch out and reveal their estimable talents. Coming full circle to close out the show, Turre and company finished with the obscurely titled "E.D. A rapid-fire tune in the bop tradition, this last piece put the rhythm section through their paces as the group raced forward through one blistering solo after another.

By bringing together six outstanding musicians and allowing them to apply their individual voices to the music, Steve Turre created a fitting tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk's unique voice as a player and composer. Not only was the audience able to gain new exposure to the range of material this great artists produced, but through Turre's strength as a leader and through the talents of his all-star compatriots, they were able to gain a renewed appreciation for the character and spirit of the man that so clearly inspired not only Turre, but all the musicians on the stage.


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