You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata

Atlantic SD 1578 (1971)

"You Must Read the Back of This Album" proclaimed the lettering across the top of this album, and so I dutifully did, flipping it over and reading it right there in the store, where it told me that "with a few minor exceptions Rahsaan Roland Kirk is the only musician on this album" and that "everything that you hear was done live, at one time, in a recording studio. There are no overdubs, no gimmicks, and no electronic effects." A statement such as this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Kirk's legend; as a teen, one night he had a dream he was playing three horns at once, and so he decided to make this technique a reality. As a result, Kirk can sound like a one-man saxophone choir.

Long before Wynton Marsalis came on the scene, Kirk was stressing the importance of jazz as America's "classical" music, but in a more open and inclusive way. Many of Kirk's compositions and improvisations on this album sound like funky baroque or renaissance pieces with deceptively simple structures. His sound is like a kind of personal folk music with traces of other cultures thrown in; at one point, Kirk quotes the Jewish song "Hava Nagila" in his own "Island Cry". John Coltrane is a big influence, too; Kirk's soloing on "Something for Trane that Trane Could Have Said" pays tribute to Coltrane's snaky soprano sax sound, while "Runnin' from the Trash" is a humourous take on Trane's spiralling "sheets of sound" technique found in tunes like "Countdown" and "Chasin' the Trane", in which Kirk blows so fiercely without pause that you fear for his health.

What I like a lot about Roland Kirk is that the music he made in his lifetime came from a very personal place. He was not striving to be "avant-garde", nor did he especially care about tailoring his sound to attract a large mainstream audience. When I listen to a Kirk album, I believe that every sound that I'm hearing is there because Kirk wanted it there and felt that it was right. By producing nearly every sound on Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata himself, Kirk made an album that is a model of selfless self-expression.


Post a Comment

<< Home