Ohio-born blind saxophonist and flutist
Roland Kirk (1936), who moved to Chicago in 1960,
debuted with Triple Threat (november 1956), a showcase for his virtuoso
technique. He produced formerly unheard sounds by playing
more than one instrument at once (a veritable one-man horn section),
the instruments being modified saxophones.
On stage he was the ultimate eccentric, but the gimmick was rapidly exhausted
in the studio after a collaboration with saxophonist and trumpeter Ira Sullivan,
Introducing Roland Kirk (june 1960), containing The Call,
and a collaboration with organist Jack McDuff, Kirk's Work (july 1961), with Funk Underneath.
Kirk focused on soul-influenced material that did not quite provide the ideal
launching pad for his polyphonic saxophone technique.
Kirk began expanding in earnest the technique of the flute, particularly by incorporating circular breathing, on I Talk With the Spirits (september 1964), containing his signature tune Serenade to a Cuckoo.
The volcanic Rip Rig & Panic (january 1965), backed by pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Elvin Jones, ran the gamut from traditional jazz to avantgarde music, with dramatic peaks in Rip Rig & Panic and in the cacophonous, psychedelic Slippery, Hippery, and Flippery.
The groove era opened with
Slightly Latin (november 1965), containing Ebrauqs,
Now Please Don't You Cry Beautiful Edith (may 1967), with the chaotic ballad Now Please Don't You Cry Beautiful Edith,
the intimate The Inflated Tear (november 1967),
and Volunteered Slavery (july 1969).
However, Kirk's unorthodox art was best represented by
the suites Expansions for big band and string section, off Left And Right (june 1968),
and The Seeker for chamber ensemble, off Rahsaan Rahsaan (may 1970).
He played (almost) all the instruments on the brief sketches of Natural Black Inventions - Root Strata (february 1971).
The best display of his self-indulgent exhibitions was perhaps the live double-LP Bright Moments (june 1973), with lengthy versions of Pedal Up and Bright Moments.
The soul influence returned to dominate on Blacknuss (september 1971), with Blacknuss,
and especially on the three-sided LP The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color (may 1975), with Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs and Portrait of Those Beautiful Ladies.
These albums were only marred by inferior material (frequently borrowed from the soul and pop repertory).
On the other hand, Kirk transcended all styles in his most gargantuan and improbable experiments, such as
the eclectic and fiery Saxophone Concerto, off Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle (january 1973),
and the nine-minute Theme for the Eulipions on The Return of the 5000 Lb Man (1975), the last album recorded before the november 1975 paralyzing stroke.
Kirk died in 1977.
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