JJ 08/63: Roland Kirk – We Free Kings

Sixty years ago, Sinclair Traill said disregard any thought of gimmickry and observed that 'the jazz simply pours out of this man'. First published in Jazz Journal August 1963

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If there is anyone who has steered off Roland Kirk, because they thought his multi-instrumentalism was just another musical stunt, then I strongly suggest they lend an ear to this record. The man does indeed play two or three instruments at one and the same time, but his per­sonal virtuosity is such that he is able to make it sound easy; and right.

His instruments are manzello, a curved horn which sounds vaguely like a soprano saxophone; the stritch, his own type of alto; plus a flute and the more con­ventional tenor saxophone. The music he produces from this array is as saturated with genuine blues as anything that ever came out of the deep South – much of it could indeed be described as real “blind-man’s” music.

Some of the tracks, such as “You Did It”, a slow, slow blues is somewhat weird as Kirk mutters and wails vocally whilst he plays his flute. But the jazz simply pours out of this man, whatever instrument he is playing and whatever the kind of jazz from rocking swingers to melodic ballads. As a more or less straightforward piece of tenor playing I suggest you sample “Kind Of Love”.

It should also be noticed that Kirk, in company with most real blues men, is an interesting composer – all these tunes with the exception of two, are his. The rhythm section is strong and very sympathetic to the leader’s demands.

Discography
(a) Three For The Festival; (a) Moon Song; (b) A Sack Full Of Soul; (b) The Haunted Melody; (b) Blues For Alice (20 min) – (a) We Free Kings; (a) You Did It, You Did It; (a) Some Kind Of Love; (b) My Delight (18 min)
(a) Roland Kirk (ten/manz/stritch/flt); Hank Jones (p); Wendell Marshall (bs); Charlie Persip (d).
(b) Same except Richard Wyands (p) and Art Davis replace Jones and Marshall. N.Y.C., 16-17/ 8/61.
(Mercury MMC 14126 12inLP 32s.)