Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by John Metzger
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was as much a free spirit as any artist. Blind at the age of two, he turned to music for solace, learning to play a variety of instruments, including saxophone, flute, and trumpet as well as several of his own design, such as a sax-trumpet hybrid. Kirk was unquestionably a disciple of both John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, and he took their pioneering spirit to a new level by incorporating elements of R&B and soul ó including covers of songs by the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye ó into a more traditional jazz framework. He suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1975, yet he managed to overcome it by learning to perform with one hand. Sadly, his career was cut tragically short when he died the following year.
Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom was recorded at San Diego State University on November 5, 1974, close on the heels of his fabled Bright Moments collection, but it remained unreleased until this year. The new set reflects both sides of Kirk, showing how amazing a performer he was as well as how far his free-spirited romps could go astray. Kirk had a tendency to ramble on during his shows, chatting about everything from jazz history to his perception of jazz enthusiasts, and these types of things never work within the context of an album. Nor do his call-and-response vocal chants (or his nose flute excursions, for that matter), all of which tend to undermine the strength of the instrumental passages.
Itís when Kirk and his band get deep into a groove that Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom becomes something worth savoring. A cover of McCoy Tynerís Passion Dance whirls wildly about its bubbly rhythm and the exhaustive flurry of notes Kirk coaxes from his saxophone. In stark contrast to this exhilarating selection stands the gentle, heartfelt My One and Only Love, a tune that also has been covered by Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, and Oscar Peterson (to name a few). Here, itís given Kirkís unique stamp as a showpiece for his circular breathing technique. And then thereís the mutation of Volunteered Slavery into the chorus from Hey Jude, the truly impressive flute solo on Bright Moments, and the frenzied Old Rugged Cross.
Like any live, improvisational performance, however, Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom has its share of ups and downs. Nevertheless, Kirkís brilliance manages to shine through, despite the murky moments.
Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box