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Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

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Album Review

For those who believed Bright Moments was "it" when it came to Rahsaan Roland Kirk live recordings — meaning that Joel Dorn's various live Kirk packages have been substandard in comparison, though not without considerable interest — Christmas came early in 2003. Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom is a performance of the Roland Kirk band on the final night of a western tour, recorded in November of 1974 in San Diego. Even though this has been released on Dorn's Hyena Records label, which has put out some dodgy stuff in the past — including the infamously substandard Man Who Cried Fire — this performance is excellent. It was recorded just a couple of weeks after the sets that became Bright Moments. The band is Kirk, Hilton Ruiz on piano, Henry Pearson on bass, drummer John Goldsmith and a percussionist dubbed "Samson Verge."

The set starts out with a smoking, completely in your face, blowing version of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance." It's all fire as Kirk takes the stage and goes head to head with Ruiz. But just as quickly, the band drifts with very little pause into an absolutely heartbreaking rendition of "My One and Only Love," until Kirk begins his unaccompanied circular breathing solo that nonetheless stays in the same harmonic range as the main body of the tune — and the solo is glorious. He talks of bringing "bright moments, and we bring you 'miraclized music'," the great tenderness and brilliance of the man and artist is borne out in what follows. Jumping directly into "Fly Town Nose Blues," on which he jams on the nose flute, Kirk moves through the history of the evolution of blues with a funky Latin backbeat. From there the recording moves into "Volunteered Slavery" and another monologue, and then to a pair of excerpts from "Old Rugged Cross" and "Bright Moments," before the most amazing rendition of blacknuss ever released to the public. The musical part of the set closes with "Freaks for the Festival," with unbelievable left-hand work by Ruiz. This is groove jazz from outer space, and should have been playing in the barroom scene in the very first Star Wars movie. Kirk sends it out by saying he is not afraid of death, he is ready to die (how manhy of us can say that) — "Bring it on," bring it on" he says. The last sound one on the record is hears is his laughter. While the sound on this date is not pristine by any means, it nonetheless captures all the magic and mystery of the man himself. Essential.

Biography

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...
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