JJ 08/62: Roland Kirk – Kirk’s Work

Sixty years ago, Steve Voce recommended maximising Kirk’s impact by imagining his trousers falling down as he sounded his siren. First published in Jazz Journal August 1962


This lad has got something. When I first heard of manzello and strich I thought they were onion blight and a kind of lockjaw of the lower guts, but added to Roland Kirk’s tenor, they be­come a damn’ great big band. Kirk’s thing is to play the three instruments at once, a gimmick which put me right off him before I had heard him play. I was wrong.

The two weird instruments are bastard alto and soprano saxo­phones and they make excellent jazz horns. Kirk also uses a hand-operated siren at moments of tension. This pro­duces an exciting shrill whoop. If you imagine his trousers falling down at the same time, it will add immeasurably to your enjoyment of the albums.

It is indeed an enjoyable session. Kirk’s direct and swinging approach to the “hard” groove is leavened with a good ration of old-fashioned jazz heat, and the unspectacular but reliable Hammond-playing of McDuff justifies the electricity bill which Prestige must pay out on this thing.

Kirk manages to get a completely convincing section sound out of his horns, and his harmonies are spectacular. I would like to see him trying to play them all at once in the bottom half of the bottom register, but perhaps this is too much to ask. Most of the time he just plays one instrument at once and then his tenor and manzello playing are the most satisfying.

The dreaded strich appears solo only in “Skater’s Waltz”, which Mr. Kirk knocks to hell the way Joe Turner slaughtered “Red Sails In The Sunset”. His flute is showcased on “Funk Underneath”, where he sounds more like Bill Bramwell than anyone else I can think of. Elsewhere he comes on hard with Coltrane, Dolphy and Griffin sounds, albeit with a more simple grace than any of the other three.

Joe Benjamin is a wonderful bass player, and both he and Taylor give Kirk and McDuff excellent support. The playing time is shorter than the usual good measure given by Prestige, but quality makes up for the slight defici­ency in quantity.

Three For Diary; Makin’ Whoopee; Funk Under­neath (16 min) – Kirk’s Work; Doin’ The Sixty-Eight; Too Late Now; Skater’s Waltz (17 min)
Roland Kirk (ten, manzello, strich, flute, siren); Jack McDuff (Hammond organ); Joe Ben­jamin (bs); Arthur Taylor (d). 11 November, 1961.
(Esquire 32-164 12inLP 39s.)