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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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We Free Kings + Triple Threat

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55562



1. Three for the Festival
2. Moon Song
3. A Sack Full of Soul
4. The Haunted Melody
5. Blues for Alice
6. We Free Kings
7. You Did It, You Did It
8. Some Kind of Love
9. My Delight
10. Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year
11. Blues for Alice (Alternate Take)
12. Roland's Theme
13. Slow Groove
14. Stormy Weather
15. The Nearness of You
16. A La Carte
17. Easy Living
18. Triple Threat

Roland Kirk - Tenor sax, stritch, manzello, flute, siren
Hank Jones - Piano (tracks 1, 2, 6-8, 10)
Wendell Marshall - Bass (tracks 1, 2, 6-8, 10)
Richard Wyands - Piano (tracks 3-5, 9, 11)
Art Davis - Bass (tracks 3-5, 9, 11)
Charlie Persip - Drums (tracks 1-11)
Jimmy Madison - Piano (tracks 12-18)
Carl Pruitt - Bass (tracks 12-18)
Henry "Hank" Duncan - Drums (tracks 12-18)

Roland Kirk is in danger of being overlooked as the years pass by. Yet he was a star in the 1960s and 1970s, when the psychedelic era welcomed strange phenomena. And he certainly was a phenomenon: playing several instruments at once, instruments which seemed to have been obtained at a car-boot sale and which Roland called the manzello and stritch. One suspected that these instruments resulted from a nasty accident in a music shop but Roland somehow conjured the most invigorating sounds out of them.

This CD contains not only his fourth album - We Free Kings - but also his very first LP - Triple Threat, recorded in 1956, when he was only 20. The latter album suffered from poor distribution and was only really noticed when it was reissued later on.

The sleeve-notes of Triple Threat say that Roland is playing the soprano, alto and tenor saxes, although the front cover of the LP showed him holding what look like the tenor, manzello and stritch. Kirk played all three instruments at once but he also overdubbed a melody played on one with an improvisation played on another. Four of the seven tracks on this LP were originals written by Kirk. All of his compositions illustrate his devotion to the blues, with some fierce blowing. The double-tracking allowed him to play counterpoint with himself, especially in Stormy Weather, making this a very intriguing album. But the passages where he plays just one instrument - as in Easy Living - also display his lyrical melodic sense.

The LP We Free Kings was recorded in 1961 and had the advantage of the very animated drumming of Charlie Persip. Three for the Festival is one of Roland's best-known compositions and it opens the album with a bang. It also contains some of Kirk's flute-playing, which was innovative in many ways. He could speak, cry and scream through the instrument: a much more exciting player than more popular flautists like Herbie Mann.

The other well-known track from this LP is the title-track, Roland's take on We Three Kings of Orient Are, a lilting jazz waltz where Kirk's playing may remind listeners of how John Coltrane was playing at around the same time. The two takes of Charlie Parker's Blues for Alice underline Roland's blues mentality. And You Did It, You Did It is a fine example of Roland's flute: screaming, fluttering, talking, humming. Like Sonny Rollins, Roland was not afraid to take such unexpected tunes as Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, which he plays cheerfully on tenor sax before launching into swirling extemporisation which proves he had technique to spare.

If you have not encountered Roland Kirk before, grab this album as a winning example of his expertise in two different styles on two early LPs.

Tony Augarde

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