JJ 04/72: Rahsaan At Ronnie’s

Fifty years ago Barry McRae walked out into the Soho air after seeing 'complete entertainer' Roland Kirk at Ronnie Scott's convinced that the world was more bearable. First published in Jazz Journal April 1972

Roland Kirk in London in 1976. Photo © Brian O'Connor

Rahsaan Roland Kirk is a musician who is beyond classification and one whom I would personally love to see as a featured soloist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His playing at Scott’s during his last tour suggested that this would be far from an abortive project. His clarinet invokes memories of Barney Bigard and his blustering but always coherent tenor would more than fit the Ducal ensemble.

Kirk is an outstanding jazzman, if only for his brilliant flute playing. This year Kirk the flautist was featured copiously and he is playing better than ever. If anything, he has dirtied up his tone – a fact that, together with the incredible swing he generates, provides jazz of the highest order.

He also astounds the audience by producing two contrapuntal lines with a balance and lucidity that is amazing. The fact remains that they are both simple by contemporary standards and as such can hardly be described as inspired, even if their production is a considerable feat.

After his flute it is his tenor that attracts and it is perhaps significant that his excursions on that instrument seem to allow greater room for talented bassist Henry Pearson and the funky piano of Ron Burton. As in the past, the Vibration Society played a secondary role, but they always had enough assertiveness to remain a vital part of the otherwise one-man combo. Having heard Kirk with pick-up groups, it is obvious how much better he is with a rhythm section that can anticipate the twists and turns of his melodic inspiration. He is a man who likes to ride on a buoyant beat, and the power of his music is sadly attenuated by a rhythm team that cannot provide it.

Kirk again proved that he is a major jazz musician, while his cracks about the power failure provided the comedy interludes that have always come from this complete entertainer. I walked out into the Soho air convinced that the world was more bearable.