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The Man Who Cried Fire

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Album Review

Perhaps more than any other player, Rahsaan Roland Kirk embodied the entire history of not only jazz but 20th century American music in his playing. No matter which of the many horns he played (more often than not three at once), he would cut through an original composition, something from the current pop repertoire, or a jazz or R&B nugget that hadn't been heard in a while, and open the floodgates, bringing all of the other musics he knew to bear on the present selection. And Kirk was not one for excess; his humor, his fire, and his soulfulness were always displayed with great tenderness and taste. This set, originally issued on Joel Dorn's Night Records label in 1991, features a series of unreleased live performances from the mid-'70s. There are six from the Keystone in San Francisco, one from the Olympia Theater in Paris, and one from the It Club in Los Angeles. Sidemen include future bright lights like pianists Hilton Ruiz and Ron Burton, trombonist Steve Turre, bassist Henry Pearson, and a host of different drummers, including John Goldsmith and Sonny Brown. There are a few percussionists in the mix as well, but not all the personnel are known due to the loose nature of the original recordings, which were made by club owners and never intended for release. Nonetheless, The Man Who Cried Fire is an essential recording by Kirk. Here he uses his multi-instrumental approach more plainly than on any of his studio albums, especially on "Multi-Horn Variations," where he transmutes the blues from Hebrew folk song to gutbucket R&B while playing three different horns that often change melodies and begin to weave into one another! Elsewhere, on the Miles mimic "Bye Bye Blackbird," Kirk cops Miles' muted tone and phrasing with his own horn. The readings of the stomping "Night Train" and "Mr. P.C." are among the most recognizable and memorable in the canon, and "New Orleans Fantasy," a small suite played with a brass band, is too surreal for words. On "You Did It, You Did It," Kirk sings and blows the blues, funky and dirty through his flute, whipping up the entire audience. Simply put, there is no other live album in jazz history that accomplishes what this one does: The Man Who Cried Fire gives a complete and rounded portrait of its speaking subject that will last for ages if Dorn can keep it in print. Just amazing. [This reissue adds one untitled track.]


Born: August 7, 1935 in Columbus, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s

Arguably the most exciting saxophone soloist in jazz history, Kirk was a post-modernist before that term even existed. Kirk played the continuum of jazz tradition as an instrument unto itself; he felt little compunction about mixing and matching elements from the music's history, and his concoctions usually seemed natural, if not inevitable. When discussing Kirk, a great deal of attention is always paid to his eccentricities -- playing several horns at once, making his own instruments, clowning on...
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