Rahsaan Roland Kirk, “The Inflated Tear”
45 years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Roland Kirk recorded a small masterpiece for Atlantic, entitled The Inflated Tear. Following in the wake of the very recent deaths of Coltrane, Woody Guthrie, and Che Guevara, The Inflated Tear was indeed a welcome gift, a wunderkammern, simultaneously hopeful, irreverent, jarring, and otherworldly. The Inflated Tear exerted a profound influence on my 16-year-old self, showing me all the ways jazz could be: brimming with childlike joy and abandon; seething, tearing at the seams of jazz’s more polite surface, while remaining rooted to tendrils of melody and swing.
Prodigiously talented and wildly idiosyncratic, qualities that were both a blessing and a curse, it is very hard to write about Kirk’s music without talking about the man. Blind from the age of two, Kirk was a marvel, playing tenor sax, flute, clarinet and long-forgotten members of the sax family—cast-off step-children like the Manzello and the Stritch, which he played simultaneously, fingering two horns while playing a third as a drone. Around his neck, stuffed into pockets, were whistles, nose flute, a section of garden hose, sirens, harmonica, a trumpaphone, a cuckoo clock, flexatone and something called a black puzzle flute. Easily written off by critics as Barnumesque gaullimaufry, Kirk was one of the 1960s most exciting performers who seemed, as Dr. Billy Taylor said, “to generate music like a dynamo creating electric energy.”
Bursting on the scene when “the New Thing” was shunning melody and shirking off time, Kirk embraced jubilant swing, waltzes you could ice skate to, time-traveling nostalgic ballads and deep blues.
Throughout the 1960s, Kirk reinvigorated jazz as both art and entertainment, weaving together a vivid sense of theater, politics and protest, humor, and an unimpeachable, heavy artistry – but it’s with The Inflated Tear, that he perfected and distilled his singular blend of tradition, freedom, pathos, and sense of play.
Stand-outs: “The Black and Crazy Blues” is a dirge that finds pianist Ron Burton and Kirk playing catch with time and space without ever betraying a hint of corn. A flute feature, “A Laugh for Rory” crackles with innocence, light and feverishly good, tickle-and-pounce drum interplay from Jimmy Hopps. On Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” Kirk deploys his multi-horn blowing to stunning effect—uncoiling and taking things out into orbit, just enough, before landing back in the pocket. It’s a great illustration of Kirk’s diachronic love affair with the music: a nod to both his forebears and the playful, knotty shape of jazz to come.
The title track, “The Inflated Tear,” a reference to a childhood incident of over-medication that turned a young Kirk from partially to fully blind, is the prize, deeply moving and begs repeated listening. Opening with chiming shards of little instruments, flexatone, bells and Kirkian who-knows-what, silence is cleaved by a breathtakingly beautiful line like something out of the Strayhorn-Ellington canon, replete with Ron Burton’s piano-on-a-turquoise-cloud embellishments. Beauty, sadness, tension, dignity, catharsis and forgiveness are all in attendance – creating an aural snapshot of a life poised, as the poet Kirsten Rian writes, “somewhere between grief and happiness.”
Like some kind of jazz-borne ancient mariner, Kirk used music as a sextant, measuring the angles between jazz’s birth and its path into the future. Roland Kirk, who said that he could “hear the sun” and ventured that “the wind was in Bb,” could seem at times like a saxophone-and-whistle-wielding shaman or like a jazz version of the Potato Face Blind Man, Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories minstrel who sat, “salut[ing] the dawn and the morning with a mixture of reverence and laughter.” And that’s a gift worthy of thanks.
-Tim DuRoche, host of The New Thing, Mondays 9-10 PM
This blog initially appeared on NPR’s “A Blog Supreme” Click here for the original story.
Dennis Rollins is a British trombone player who’s worked with Maceo Parker, Marcus Miller and Roy Ayers. On his newest release, the 11th Gate (named after the date 11/11/11, which Rollins believes will usher in a new age of ‘Global Awareness’) he brings forth his new “Velocity Trio” which is comprised of Trombone, Organ, and Drums.
This is not a groove-oriented release, though there are grooves to be found on the 11th Gate. Instead, the trio takes a more subdued, nuanced approach in creating textures and spiritualized cerebral fields for the listener to explore.
Rollin’s trombone playing is unique, he has a sort of “cool” sensibility on the instrument and a strong tone that’s identifiable. On tunes like “The Other Side” his playing matches well with the Hammond Organ of Ross Stanley, who’s notes and playing are reminiscent of cosmic raindrops falling from some far part of the galaxy. Drummer and latin percussionist Pedro Segundo holds the session together with sharp flourishes and mellow conga pats thoughout the recording. Even though it’s been done to death, the trio finds some new territory to forge inside a rollicking version of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” which shifts tempo and time-signatures without losing the groove (or the listener).
While the 11th Gate may not be a full-fledged concept album, it does take the listener on a trip through the intellect of this great composer and player. Best of all, it’s a solid listen the whole way through, worthy of a place in your collection.
-Matt Fleeger, Program Director
Join us Monday-Thursday at Noon for “New Jazz for Lunch” KMHD’s new release show
Lee Morgan’s recorded output was so prodigious in the 1960’s that it’s easy for a record such as Charisma to fall through the cracks. That would be a shame because Charisma, recorded in 1966, is a hard bop gem. Morgan is joined on this one by some familiar faces which may account for the relaxed and joyful spirit of the album. Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean – a frequent Morgan ally – is on board along with tenor Hank Mobley (another longtime collaborator), pianist Cedar Walton, who contributes a lovely ballad, and a rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Paul Chambers. McLean, Mobley and Walton, like Morgan, all served apprenticeships in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Morgan by this time had established himself as a leading exponent of the hard bop sound. He had also enjoyed crossover success in the pop/R&B markets. The title tune from his 1963 album The Sidewinder spent time on the pop charts in 1964, a rarity for a jazz record. The sound on Charisma doesn’t stray far from the winning formula found on earlier Morgan albums like The Sidewinder and Cornbread (which featured his ballad masterpiece “Ceora”). But though the formula may be familiar the sound on Charisma is always fresh, swinging and soulful.
Morgan pulled from a number of influences including Latin, boogaloo, blues and R&B to create songs that were catchy and often danceable. All of those ingredients are in full play on Charisma starting with the funky lead-off track “Hey Chico” which gives way to the propulsive bop grind of “Somethin’ Cute.” Duke Pearson contributed two songs and his rollicking “Sweet Honey Bee” is a further highlight. Unlike so many jazz reissues these days, Charisma contains no “alternate takes” or “bonus material”; no filler here, just pure and joyous hard bop from a master at the top of his game.
Chris Darkins, Host of The Bridge on Monday mornings.
From the opening track, “Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow”, with its Arthur Adams wah-wah-laden guitar, you just know Jimmy Smith’s Root Down is going to be as funky as it gets. Some have said that Jimmy Smith did for the Hammond B-3 what Charlie Christian did for the guitar. While this may be true for Smith’s role in bringing the instrument to a wider audience, after listening to Root Down a number of times, you might find yourself thinking that Eddie Hazel would be just as accurate a parallel.
Recorded live in Los Angeles at the Bombay Bicycle Club in February, 1972, Root Down is a distinct departure from the big band dates Smith had previously done for Verve. It’s an album that’s less restrained and more enthusiastic than some of his laid-back projects recorded as a Blue Note artist.
Reissued and remastered in 2000 as part of Verve’s By Request series — quite possibly due to the attention garnered from the sample the Beastie Boys used on their 1994 release Ill Communication — Root Down contains a number of note worthy gems, There’s a 12-minute-plus, unedited version of the title track, a gritty, bluesy rendition of the Erskine Hawkins-penned classic “After Hours,’ and a memorable go at Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
In addition to Smiths’ masterful touch on the B-3, Root features Wilton Felder on bass and Paul Humphrey on drums (both would go on to work with Steely Dan), as well as Arthur Adams on guitar, Buck Clarke on percussion and Steve Williams on harmonica.
Jimmy Smith has a number of four- and five-star recordings in his catalog, but Root Down is the one, in my opinion, that cemented him as the father of the Funk/Soul Jazz Sound.
- Mark Rini, Host of Soul Station, Tuesdays, 9-11 PM
Don Cherry: Brown Rice (A & M Records, 1975)
Listening to Don Cherry’s Brown Rice is to experience a sense of aural transcendence and a vision of complete commitment by an artist to his music.
Though Cherry made many fine albums under his own name, Brown Rice is special, standing out as one of the under-appreciated achievements of his wonderful career.
Recorded in 1975 at Basement Recording Studios in New York, and featuring bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Frank Lowe and drummer Billy Higgins, Brown Rice is a spiritual journey through a different sort of jazz fusion.
Like Cherry’s nomadic spirit, the sounds on this record belong to no country, to no region in particular — but rather to all the elements and peoples on earth. There are elements of free jazz, Indian classical music, West-African sounds, Himalayan chants, European classical music and the synthesized electronic fusion of the mid ’70s.
Cherry’s trumpet produces cool, nocturnal sounds and scalar melodies that flow from his diverse musical experiences, garnered from traveling the world. Combine this with Higgins’ and Haden’s polyrhythmic contributions on drums and bass, and the sound becomes something from — and that carries the listener to — another world.
At times quiet and sensitive, at others dissonant and raging — Brown Rice is a sonic experience that’s as dynamic as the man who created it.
-Matt Fleeger, KMHD Program Director
Let me start off by saying this is one of my favorite jazz albums of all time. After 40 years of listening, it still sounds fresh and can even give me goose bumps. It’s definitely on my “desert island list.”
Released in 1957, Getz Meets Mulligan In Hi-Fi features two of the best jazzmen ever, and their cool chemistry is palpable. With excellent song selection and masterful improvisational efforts, the counterpoint between Stan and Gerry is essentially symbiotic. Their energy is infectious and their solos are spontaneous and creative. This kind of playing is impossible without the big ears both these guys had. You’ll savor the hearing of two of the greatest sax players in jazz at the peak of their artistic powers.
Although recorded in the 1950s, the sound quality is pristine, almost crystalline — and despite its title the record was recorded not just in hi-fi but in stereo! What’s also cool about this album is that they switch instruments several times through the session: Getz plays baritone and Mulligan plays tenor.
Favorite tracks on this recording are Let’s Fall In Love and Too Close For Comfort, but there’s not a missed note or creative misstep anywhere to be found. Except for the appropriately titled A Ballad, all tracks on this album are up-tempo. It’s well worth seeking out the expanded reissue of this album which gives you the additional Scrapple From The Apple and I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. Both tracks are from the same two-day recording session but were not included on the original 1957 release.
When you add the rhythm section of Lou Levy on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Stan Levey on drums, all of the ingredients you need to construct the perfect cool jazz album come together like a rare alignment of the planets.
The result is Jazz. Pure and simple.
-Raoul Van Hall, host of Jazz from the Left, Saturdays 3-6 PM
Recorded in 1965 at the height of the free jazz revolution, an escalating conflict in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, pianist Paul Bley’s Closer was a wonderful, poetic anomaly. In an era where velocity and raw story-telling were required currency, Closer had a lyrical, Haiku-like simplicity — recalling the Japanese poet Basho’s line “something like a hidden glimmering.”
Closer is a fantastic gateway album for folks inclined toward the lyricism of Bill Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard or the expanded palette of Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, but also one that is solidly in the direction of outer orbits of a Lowell Davidson or a Ran Blake. From the cover — with Bley staring out at you, looking handsomely tousled, dark-eyed and rakish like a free-jazzJean-Paul Belmondo — to the opening strains of the lovely Ida Lupino, the music is a balm, a counterweight to the Promethean bursts of jazz-fire and 20-minute sax-blowing marathons of his contemporaries like Albert Ayler or Cecil Taylor.
Closer gives us 10 accessible, concise and peculiarly beautiful compositions, including a handful of tunes by Bley’s then-wife Carla Bley, by soon-to-be lover Annette Peacock,and by that master of freedom and harmelodic truth, Ornette Coleman. Carla Bley’s gorgeously melancholic Ida Lupino casts us into an alternate universe of love and bittersweetness. For me it evokes poet Jack Gilbert’s line about “a lifetime of easy happiness mixed/with pain and loss.” The album could just simply stop there, at 2:55, and be a triumph.
But of course Closer offers us other reasons for living and listening — plenty of freewheeling trio-play (the tunes Batterie, Sideways in Mexico, Start) and lovely, elliptical melodies (And Now the Queen and Closer). Ultimately the album hinges on Bley and the trio’s exquisite patience and deliberation. As Thelonious Monk said, “Don’t play everything, let some music go by — some music can be just imagined… A note can be as small as a pin or as big as the world.” In Bley’s hands the freedom of jazz manifests itself in the negotiating of borders and edges, between skittering, conversational interplay, serene space and the heart-strained melodic intimacy on the part of his bandmates, drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Steve Swallow.
This album set the stage for a 40+ year relationship with tunes Bley would return to time and again (notably on his Open, To Love, an achingly beautiful solo album from 1972) — tunes that are every bit as alluring as when recorded that first cold December day in 1965. Closer, finally, is just that: an album you develop ever more proximity with; one you will come home to again and again.
-Tim Duroche, host of The New Thing, Mondays 9-10 PM
From its beginnings as blues and call-and-response field hollers to infusions of gypsy music, Brazilian sambas and hosts of other influences, jazz has remained open to influence from musical traditions around the world.
Even so, Michael Babatude Olatunji’s Drums of Passion (Columbia, 1960) qualified as exotica with its direct channel into the wellsprings of West African rhythm. His desire to play his drums of passion in schools made Columbia very nervous.
So Olatunji toured without support from Columbia, wearing traditional garb and incorporating African dance into his concerts in an effort that mixed authentically virtuoso musicianship with a dash of show business flummery.
Before long, he had captivated audiences around the country, and appeared on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. The album eventually sold five million copies, influencing musicians from John Coltrane to Carlos Santana to Herbie Mann to Mickey Hart, with whom he formed Planet Drum.
Olatunji dedicated most of the money he made from album sales and touring to music education, founding the Olatunji Center of African Culture in Harlem. He went on to tour with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, playing drums at rallies connecting with ever more fans.
The reverberations of the musical explosion that Olatunji detonated back in 1960 continued even after his death in 2003 at age 75. Critics today may dispute Olatunji’s preeminence among West-African drummers and point to others with more chops or “authenticity.” But without his influence to open American ears to the contemporary and vital sounds of Africa, the music we take for granted today might well have a very different — and much less interesting — cast.
-Sean Brennan, Host of Compass Points, Thursdays 9-11 PM
from the March edition of KMHD’s Jazz Notes – for the whole newsletter, click here
Ernie Wilkins may not be a household name but he’s certainly a well-respected one in the jazz world, particularly for his work with big bands. As a member of Basie’s sax section, he became known for his great arrangements. Wilkins’ time with Basie taught him the value of spare, swinging section writing, skills he applied when he later became the head arranger for Harry James.
Wilkins’ opportunity to arrange for his own studio band came forth in the release The Big New Band of the 60′s (Everest, 1960). Band members included Clark Terry, Thad Jones, Charlie Shavers and Joe Newman in the trumpet section, while the sax section boasted Zoot Sims, Paul Gonsalves and Frank Wess.
The brass section has a crisp and assertive sound, played with biting precision. The reeds have a full mellow blend in their voicings. Broadway and Falling In Love With Love, in particular, are reminiscent of Benny Carter’s big band arrangements in the ’30s and ’40s. Listen to the selections and you’ll probably discover you’ve been keeping time involuntarily.
As Ernie Wilkins said during the sessions, “I tried to make the music swing, but with a certain amount of charm as well, so that they’d catch the average listener’s ear. The quality I was after was effervescence.”
He did that rather well.
Jere Lee, Host of The Swing Shift, Tuesdays 7-9 PM
Evans’ collaboration with singer Tony Bennett showed just how sensitive he is as an accompanist. Affinity is another testimony to the joy he displays when playing with worthy musical partners.
The daring improvisations that usually mark Evans’ playing don’t take a backseat to the album’s song standards, but rather serve to support the daring arabesques of harmonica titan Toots Thielmans. There is joy in hearing a master improviser like Toots weave in and out of the harmonic landscape that Evans lays before him — it’s a sumptuous feast for the ears and the soul.
Paul Simon’s I Do It For Your Love is part of that joyous lake of beauty that invites you in. Long-time trio partners Eliot Zigmund on drums and Mark Johnson on bass lend their wonderful touch on the more group-oriented tunes. And Helen Keane’s production is velvety and assured — her long-time association with Evans brings an effortless unity to the sound.
Affinity is a record filled with truth and beauty. Evans certainly knew what he was talking about; Affinity still stands strong, beautiful and truthful with each successive playing.
Carlton Jackson, host of The Message Sundays from 7-10 PM