WTF?! Wednesdays: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, “I Say A Little Prayer For You (Live)” (1972)

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Like Thelonious Monk and his one-time boss Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk loved a pretty melody but also loved to present them in eccentric ways. Hell, let’s be frank, he sometimes loved to thrash that motherfucker to a pulp. Especially live, on a stage, Kirk was a rare jazz musician who embraced the entertainer role of a musician to its fullest, bringing zest, wit and peerless daring. He was a one-man jazz circus, from all accounts I’ve come across.

One particularly good account is the 3 CD mindfuck, Dog Years In The Fourth Ring, released some 20 years after Kirk’s 1977 untimely death. The first two discs are a collection of previously unreleased boots from a tape collector full of live performances Kirk performed mostly all over Europe between 1963 and 1975. This is Kirk unshackled, which is tantamount to saying Kirk at his best. He doesn’t always charge off into the abyss (sometimes he caressed pretty melodies, too), but other times…

Rah had one of “other” times on Halloween 1972 in Boston when he was feeling rather randy. On the windup intro, he keeps shouting “they shot him down!” (JFK? MLK?) before the band launches into a hyper-fast rendition of Burt Bacharach/Hal David pop standard “I Say A Little Prayer For You.” He’s playing the melody tensely but straight up on his sax for a while. Meanwhile, there’s Ron Burton on piano, Henry Person on bass, Robert Shy on drums, Arthur Perry on percussion, and what later sounds like an entire saxophone section playing a chart seemingly made up on the spot. That’s just Kirk, playing a tenor sax, and probably a manzello and stritch…all at once.

Burton gets plenty of room to jam, though it’s hard to hear him — this wasn’t a professional recording so you get what you get — and then Kirk discharges a note and keeps it going for a full minute or two, never come close to wavering, and when the band comes back in he keeps right on blowing. He spontaneously breaks out Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme ” for a brief moment which just becomes part of his inferno of a sax solo. Soon he’s adding more horns again as he keeps his soloing going. For the finale, an RnB riff appears out of nowhere, rapidly accelerating until it spins out of control, leading into an exploding, crash landing.

As incredulous as this recording sounds even at bootleg quality, seeing this live must have shell shocked the audience, even for anyone who was seeing the notorious Alice Cooper concerts going on at around the same time. A jazz musician putting on a show like this was unheard of then and maybe even more so now. Sometime I think that jazz could use some more of the likes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk today.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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