Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata

Released 1971 on Atlantic
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 25/06/2004ce

Side 1:
Something For Trane That Trane Could Have Said
Island Cry
Runnin' From The Trash
Day Dream (Duke Ellington)
The Ragman And The Junkman Ran From The Business Man They Laughed And He Cried

Side 2:
Raped Voices
Haunted Feelings
Prelude Back Home
Dance Of The Lobes
Harder & Harder Spiritual
Black Root

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - tenor saxes, clarinets, stritch, manzello, flute, piccolo, harmonium, black mystery pipes, black puzzle flute, bird calls, music box, bells, gong, sock cymbal, bass drum, tabourine, vocals

accompanied by:

Maurice McKinley - conga drums on "Trane", "Rahsaanica" & "Voices"

Joe "Habao" Texidor - washboard on "Island", triangle on "Prelude", thundersheet on "Haunted", tambourine on "Ragman"

Sonelius Smith - piano on "Day Dream"

Here's another one-of-a-kind jazz record for ya. But let's put "jazz" in quotes here because this collection of superhuman demonstrations of virtuoso technique disguised as impressionistic tone poems recorded live in the studio by a ONE MAN BAND has a sound too unique to fit into a simple one-word genre description.

Short Bio: Roland Kirk was not born blind, but lost his sight at an early age due to a nurse's mistake. But he grew up to be a musical prodigy of great musical vision, releasing his first album at the tender age of 21. He had a dream where he was playing two horns at once, so he learned how to do it! Later he mastered playing three at once -- saxes, clarinets, flutes, gizmos he made up called the "stritch" & "manzello", nose flute, whatever (and if you're wondering where the Rahsaan came from -- that was a dream too.)

He did a stint in Mingus' band in the early 60's. He recorded a pair of masterpiece jazz LP's in 1967, the forward-thinking "Rip Rig & Panic" and the more traditional yet still totally jet-age "The Inflated Tear." By the end of the 60's and into the 70's his reputation was made, but as "they" say he became more erratic -- in other words he did anything and everything he felt like, playing with everyone from string quartets to electric fusion groups, doing material ranging from out-there challenging to top pop hits of the moment. He suffered a series of strokes starting in 1975, kept touring even after he became paralyzed on the right side of his body(!), and eventually shuffled off in 1977. Allegedly the worst-selling record of his career was 1971's "Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata" which is without a doubt RRK's most singular work.

I could do a rundown of what he's doing on each track of this album, which is fascinating in and of itself -- he's always playing between two and five instruments simultanesously (no overdubs bub), about half of the tracks with no other musicians at all. He "splits the lobes" and plays two interweaving solos at the same time on two horns, left brain controlling right hand and vice versa. He's also mastered circular breathing, so he can play 3 minutes without pausing for breath, no problem.* And while he's doing all that, his foot is keeping the beat on bass drum or "sock cymbal", with the occasional gong punctuations etc. etc.! There's only one word to describe his technical abilities, and that's "SUPERHUMAN." He had more musical ability in his pinky toe than most small principalities.

But you shouldn't need to know all that to appreciate the music, and RR Kirk is a prolific mutha and I've yet to come across an album by him that's less than "pretty damn great" so you can bet when he does something extreme like this it's worth a listen! Most of these tracks are hardly songs, they're more like moods and textures -- the interplay between the "musicians" (Rah's various limbs in other words!) is uncanny, like a bunch of small furry critters grooving in a cave to a mind control machine. Some parts are tranquil & beautiful, others unsettling or freakadelic, there are references to Duke and Trane and Mingus and Fats and "acid rock" and even a chorus of "Hava Nagila"!

The overall mood of the record is best described as "magical" -- this is the ultimate example of an artist giving listeners a glimpse into their inner sound-world.

"NBI:RS" has actually been reissued on *vinyl* recently (check www.vinyl.com), but right now the only way to get it on CD is as the "bonus disc" in the "Dog Years In The Fourth Ring" 3CD set on the "32Jazz" label (a label which seems to have a Rhino connection -- the other two CD's in the set are live Rahsaan tapes from 1964-1975, good stuff but not essential. But on the plus side the whole "Dog Rings" set is bargain priced, I got mine brand new for less than $20.)

* In fact for a couple decades Rahsaan held the Guinness World Record for holding one note on a sax for over 2 hours straight. I seem to recall that Kenny G beat this record circa 1990 (shudder!)

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