I’m a great lover of modern music and some of the albums coming out in 2022 have been extraordinary. Sometimes, though, perhaps we all need a reminder of the greatness of past heroes and the occasionally unfathomable genius of Roland Kirk doesn’t disappoint. Out on Gearbox Records now are sixty year old sounds from the stage at Ronnie’s.
Live at Ronnie Scott’s 1963 is a truly fascinating album from Roland Kirk. One of the great saxophonists of our time: taken, like so many, far too early. His style of playing is instantly recognisable and he is more than a clever man who can play more than one instrument at once.
Roland Kirk was famous for playing several wind instruments at the same time and track four - Three for the Festival - does seem to have some particularly dextrous and bizarre combinations of what Kirk introduces as “all the instruments”. The listing shows Kirk playing tenor sax, stritch (straight alto sax), manzello (soprano sax), flute, nose flute and siren.
But what he does overwhelmingly is play great jazz. At times, his blistering solos go through the chord changes at a rate of knots with extensions and riffs that are akin to Coltrane or Parker. Elsewhere on these tracks, he sits back and plays horn lines that are mesmeric and act as a fitting backing to the solos from the rest of the band.
Known for his stunning and evocative flute playing, the solo on Three for the Festival soars and flies free before coming back down to a flute/vocal melody that is both beautiful and deeply intense.
As well as a genius sax player, Kirk was well-known for his political statements and renowned comic banter. At the end of Close Your Eyes at Ronnie’s, Kirk adds: “That’s the tune. We don’t want you to do that.”
One of the best elements of this recording is the music presence of three fine stalwarts of the UK jazz scene of the time: Stan Tracey on piano, Malcolm Cecil on double bass and Ronnie Stephenson on drums. Meanwhile, the CD includes liner notes featuring part of a 1963 interview between Kirk and renowned photographer and writer Val Wilmer, as well as a photo taken by Wilmer.
With just four tracks - Close Your Eyes, Days of Wine and Roses, Angelica and Three for the Festival - this is an album that was unavailable until 2021, when it was cut direct from the original tape and mastered onto a limited edition black vinyl for Record Store Day. Now available on CD, this is a rare moment in time that takes us right back to 15 October 1963.