Japanese import remastered in 2008.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was not born blind; his blindness was caused by the ineptitude of a nurse who, either high or simply careless, overdosed him with too many eye drops. He said once that his entire life was an inflated tear. Kirk combined rage with sensitivity, curiosity with an almost maniacal need to push life to its breaking point.
The entire range of Rahsaan's emotional architecture can be heard and felt in this absolutely extraordinary CD; were you to own only one Kirk CD, this should probably be it. The original LP was split, side one offered five studio tracks, including two covers of schmaltzy top 40 fare, a favorite Kirk habit. Side two featured a live performance at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival - as blistering a piece of live jazz as has ever been recorded by anyone.
The CD begins with Volunteered Slavery, an infectious tidbit with some very interesting lyrics. Kirk was a relentless iconoclast, and the concept of volunteered slavery is a provocative one - for black and white alike. Spirits Up Above, with choir, is an invocation, an anthem. Kirk breaks out the flute for My Cherie Amour, as is always the case when he covers a standard, he retains the original beauty while adding on layers of irony, edge, and originality. Search For The Reason Why, also with choir, is Kirk at his catchiest and most sincere - this is music you might sing in the shower. The cover of I Say A Little Prayer would probably give Burt Bacharach a heart attack. Long time Kirk collaborator Ron Burton deserves special credit here, his piano playing is particularly strong. Kirk slips into one-man orchestra mode, playing multiple horns simultaneously. This track builds steadily from one plateau to the next until it achieves a state of euphoria, something resembling religious ecstasy.
At this point you switch over to the Newport concert and - school is out, way out. Kirk is in total control, he owns the crowd. From his outrageous comments, to his mind-boggling multi-instrumentalism, to the almost hysterical energy level, he simply overpowers and awes the audience. Every second counts, but the standout here is his eight minute tribute to John Coltrane. In eight minutes Kirk shows that he understands Coltrane as well as anyone ever has, deeply honors and respects him, and is brilliant enough to actually interpret him without losing what made Coltrane unique.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk is impossible to categorize, which is one of the reasons he does not get the credit he so richly deserves. His exuberance and joy is not tidy, in Roland Kirk you have the splendid messiness of real life.