Rahsaan Roland Kirk - tenor sax, flute, manzello, stritch, clarinet, trumpophone; Hilton Ruiz - piano; Mattathias Pearson - electric bass; Habao Texidor - percussion; Sonny Brown - drums
A marvel and an enigma wrapped in a sly wink, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was part saxophone virtuoso, part performance artist, as well as an endless source of inspiration to countless musicians and open-minded listeners with an allegiance to pushing the envelope of possibilities in sound. The visionary Kirk made his Newport Jazz Festival debut in 1962, billed as "Discovery of the Year." He returned to Newport six years later for his second appearance on the Fourth of July, 1969. For this third Newport Jazz Festival appearance, at Carnegie Hall on July 4th, 1975, the enigmatic jazzman is accompanied by his Vibration Society, which consisted of the forceful pianist Hilton Ruiz, bassist Henry Mattathias Pearson, percussionist Joe Habao Texidor, and Sonny Brown. Switching from tenor saxophone to flute, manzello, stretch, and trumpet (played with a saxophone reed), Kirk ignited the bandstand with his heroic soloing, often playing two or three horns at once, which had become one of his signature moves during the 1960s. One of the first jazz artists to experiment with the use of taped sounds, Kirk holds a small tape recorder up to the microphone between songs throughout this performance, playing everything from ice cream truck chimes to train whistles and barking dogs through the PA system to the delight and bewilderment of the audience.
Kirk and his crew open their Carnegie Hall concert in energetic fashion, opening with a blast of raucous free jazz abandon to kick off "Pedal Up," a surging modal number in the vein of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Indeed, Ruiz's comping and soloing here is very reminiscent of McCoy Tyner's forceful work in the classic John Coltrane quartet. Kirk opens by playing both the manzello (the name he gave to his Bb soprano saxophone) and tenor saxophone simultaneously. As the intensity builds on this heated number, Kirk solos with abandon on the manzello, recalling Coltrane's stratospheric flights on the soprano sax on a number like "My Favorite Things." Without dropping a beat he switches to tenor sax and solos heroically on that deeper-toned instrument before giving it up to pianist Ruiz, who follows with some heat of his own on the keyboard. The piece culminates with a remarkable display of Kirk's trademark circular breathing ability, whereby he maintains a droning pedal point on the manzello while simultaneously blowing contrapuntal lines on top of it. And at some point during this a cappella showcase he drifts into Beethoven's "Fur Elise" on the two horns, eventually slapping an infectious klezmer interpretation on it that has the audience clapping along in spirited fashion.
Continuing to celebrate the spirit of Coltrane, Kirk next settles into an alluring ballad interpretation of "Giant Steps," accompanied only by Ruiz on piano. Playing tenor sax, this iconic piece begins with the soothing tones of Trane's ballad playing on "I Want to Talk About You" before eventually jumping into the piece with the full band at full-throttle tempo. Kirk's tenor solo on this chops-busting vehicle is intense and full of marvelous feats of circular breathing, and Ruiz follows with another Tyner-inspired piano solo that maintains that high energy level. Kirk then takes up the flute for his funky "Portrait of Those Beautiful Ladies," which appeared on his current record at the time, The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color. His references to "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)" are unmistakable here. Before his rendition of Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Song," Kirk plays a tape of Louis Armstrong speaking. This bit of Ellingtonia, which he premiered on his 1967 Atlantic album The Inflated Tear, is a multi-reed tour de force which opens with Kirk playing the mellow opening theme on clarinet and tenor sax simultaneously. He solos first on clarinet, taking his time in the low register before sailing up into the higher register for some soulful, gospel flavored testifying on the 'licorice stick.' Switching to tenor sax, he solos mightily with another incredible display of his circular breathing prowess.
They follow with a bit of Eddie Harris style funk on "Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs" (from The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color) that gradually develops into a heated son montuno groove on the strength of Ruiz's forceful piano comping. Kirk does his finest Miles Davis muted trumpet impression here on his "trumpophone,'" which was essentially a trumpet with a soprano sax mouthpiece. Returning to Ellingtonia, Kirk and company conclude their set with a jaunty, faithful rendition of Duke's "Satin Doll," which culminates in a two-horn fusillade on stritch (straight alto sax) and tenor sax. Following a rousing, extended ovation, Kirk returns for an encore of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," which he performs as a freewheeling duet with special guest McCoy Tyner, bringing this extraordinary Newport Jazz Festival set to a stunning conclusion.
Born Roland Kirk in Columbus, Ohio, on August 7, 1935, he became blind at the age of two. Originally playing bugle and trumpet before learning clarinet and C-melody saxophone, he began playing tenor sax professionally in R&B bands at the age of 15. While a teenager, he also discovered the manzello and stritch and incorporated those instruments into his burgeoning horn arsenal, along with flute and harmonica. Kirk's debut as a leader was a 1956 R&B record called Triple Threat, and by 1960 he began incorporating circular breathing, a technique that enabled him to play without pause for breath, into his arsenal. He recorded his second album as a leader that year, Introducing Roland Kirk on the Chicago-based Argo label. In 1961, Kirk toured with Charles Mingus and the following year appeared on Roy Haynes' Impulse album Out of the Afternoon. In 1970, he added "Rahsaan" to his name after hearing it in a dream. Through the early to mid-'70s, Kirk led his Vibration Society, recording prolifically for the Atlantic and Warner Bros. labels while also wowing audiences in concert with his unique ability to play two horns simultaneously. He suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1975 but continued to perform one-handed until his death on December 5, 1977. (Milkowski)
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