The History of the Albums – n°283
[I also invite you to read my review of Kirk's Work, to better understand his early work and this one]. With promising beginnings but very much neglected by his too avant-garde or too fantasy approach, Roland Kirk has always put his extraterrestrial nature forward in order to offer the most original creativity possible. This multi-instrumentalist jazzman has succeeded with perseverance and genius in winning his case, offering himself an enticing notoriety and a crazy complementary discography. I am well aware of the number of fantastic albums I could have reviewed in this series since his first reference Kirk's Work released in 1961. In the space of 4 years (and it will continue even afterwards), Roland Kirk has covered us with delicious treasures that it is good to discover and rediscover, because each of them not only shows an evolution in his style, but also shares a different theme each time. We will therefore first revisit little by little what he took to make 1965 one of his vintages when he was at Limelight Records, before going into more depth on one of the best masterpieces: Rip, Rig and Panic. I hope you are well seated and concentrated, because there is so much to tell about this period that I will try to be as concise as possible and get to the point.
The Roland Kirk legend was also built around the fact that little is known about his life, especially when we look at his productivity and longevity, until his death in 1977. Few jazzmen of the time were really popular in the sense that they were considered stars, whereas at the antithesis of that you have the mysterious and prodigious Roland Kirk who built his career in the shadow of show business, but surrounded and congratulated by the jazz sphere. Since he also always preferred to work as a leader rather than a sideman, it was only in the 70s that Roland Kirk became known for his political commitments and his death. Moreover for many he is known in retrospect thanks to certain film songs. To put in context, Kirk's Work released in 1961 is the first project to have attracted the attention of some, including Mercury Records with whom he will sing for a handful of albums from 1961 to 1964. From his first works with Mercury, Roland Kirk will gradually abandon the aging Hard Bop, Soul Jazz and Cool Jazz that they explored in his early days, until his consecration on Kirk's Work, passing logically to Post-Bop and Avant-Garde Jazz. It all started on the album We Free King (recorded in 1961 and released in 1962), where Roland Kirk's work is very solid and coherent, supported by a brand new formation, which is an obligatory passage that can qualify as intermediate between his bluesy/hard bop style and his evolution towards new directions. One finds there as fulgurances, the eponymous composition, the readaptation Blues for Alice initially of Charlie Parker and this splendid introduction of album Three for the Festival. This album will be followed by Domino released in 1963, which marks Kirk's first real steps in the avant-garde jazz world. In spite of some timid passages where one sees that Kirk still tries to find the best possible formula, this album remains very attractive, delivering a rather atypical and ambitious album structure, especially when one recognizes some fantastic sidemen who compose his formation like Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock or Wynton Kelly. During a few years Kirk tried to fill his gaps and to widen his creativity to make it perfect, it's probably one of the reasons why (and probably also a problem of contractual situation with Mercury) why the 3 following albums are of a less good level, opting rather for the concept.
It is during his short period at Limelight Records (since it will extend over 2 years, including 3 albums only) that Roland Kirk reaches the success of his artistic quest. Limelight Records is in fact a sub-branch of the Atlantic label which didn't see the commercial interest on his artist anymore. Finally we can say that creatively it did him a favor, even boosting him in a way, and that he will deliver 2 sensational albums. The first one recorded in September 1964 I Talk with the Spirits, is distinguished by the fact that he gave up some of his instruments for a flute ensemble only, and especially by its concept and its very original structures that he succeeded perfectly in setting up. This album is so good that I could have made a review on it, but when you listen to the one that follows, for me there is no hesitation. Because yes, Rip Rig and Panic is clearly one of his 3 best projects of his career so it's an exceptional work. First of all, there is all the mystery surrounding the album and its concept, that no one has managed to understand the meaning although over the years the story has finally demarcated a few references. This sublime red cover is backed by a kind of spiritual poem that only reinforces our questions and that has only pushed the most daring to describe in its musical content all the answers, in vain. Along with the previous album, Rip Rig and Panic are the first albums that started to influence musicians/artists beyond Jazz, including Rock, Film Score and R&B/Funk. Recorded in January 1965 for his first experience in Van Gelder's studios, Roland Kirk, who had already found the essential ingredients of the winning formula, decided for the first time in his career to build a whole project in a quartet formation, he who sometimes complicated the task with sextet and more. He drew from this flexibility the perfect balance to be able to practice in the best possible arrangements. He then enlisted the support of pianist Jaki Byard, Elvin Jones on percussion and Richard Davis who formed a masterful rhythm section as if it had been born to accomplish the work of Roland Kirk. It was a great support that not only did Kirk rest on, but it was also beyond anything he had done before. Rip Rig and Panic is also the album that contains the most original songs, composed by him, symbol of his self-confidence and overflowing creativity. Mainly Avant-Garde Jazz, Roland Kirk has not totally abandoned his early essence, this bluesy/soul flavor or this love for exoticism, there are a number of times where he voluntarily loses himself in this absolute passion that animates him. And that's good, since those who accompany him play the game as well, offering numerous interactions/solo totally insane, I'm thinking of the "western saloon" part in the No Tonic Press introduction or Elvin Jones' smashing solo on the eponymous composition. In reality, it's amazing how many precious details and variations Rip Rig and Panic offers, showing the incalculable richness of this masterpiece, it's something totally paralyzing.