THE ROLAND KIRK QUARTET FEATURING ELVIN JONES Rip, Rig & Panic (Limelight)Any listener approaching "Rip, Rig & Panic" (an album, let it not be forgotten, that gave its name to an early 1980s funk band whose ranks included daughter-of-Don Neneh Cherry) expecting Sun Ra-, Albert Ayler- or Eric Dolphy-like levels of abstract craziness is likely to find themselves disappointed. It's just too darned melodic and rhythmic for that, which isn't exactly a bad thing. The quartet includes Elvin Jones on percussion, Richard Davis on bass, Jackie Byard on piano and headliner Kirk on tenor saxophone, manzello, stritch (both unconventional variations on the saxophone theme) castanets and siren, and this album captures them crashing and flailing around in a highly entertaining fashion during one day in January 1965.
The session's overflowing exuberance suggests the noise that one of Charles Mingus' larger ensembles might come up with if hacked down to a quartet. "From Bechet, Byas And Fats" balances its brash clarion-call riffing with chiming bells, to exhilarating effect. The title track opens with Davis, Byas and Kirk conjuring an unsettling chill from their instruments, a shattering glass announcing a minor key main event jittery with paranoia. Elvin Jones' solo clatters with unrest, sirens wail, saxophones scream and proceedings close with what appears to be a fire extinguisher going off. "Black Diamond" sounds rather less like the Kiss song than it does "Take Five" squashed into a regular time signature, but "Slippery, Hippery, Flippery" concludes the album at its most extreme. Peppered with sirens, oscillating electronic mayhem and bullhorn static, it sounds like civilisation crumbling to a jazz soundtrack.
Cross-referencing the inner sleeve and deadwax inscriptions against albums known to emanate from Scorpio Music, the current vinyl issue of "Rip, Rig & Panic" also appears to be a product of that mysterious, oft-maligned company. However, like their reissue of Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay", it sounds vibrantly alive, is reasonably packaged and about as cheap as new records get these days.
ROLAND KIRK The Inflated Tear (Atlantic)
Whenever I hear a Roland Kirk album I’m gently surprised and pleased at how it’s not the fearsome, aggressive, experimental work that advance reputation might suggest, and “The Inflated Tear”, a 1968 release that some would cite as his finest, happily continues that trend, practically oozing musicality. Kirk himself plays an astonishing array of instruments – tenor sax, manzello, stritch, clarinet, flute, whistle, English horn and something called a flexafone – whilst his band tear into the tunes with an anarchic, almost punky, fervour.
There’s something strangely regal and processional about “The Black And Crazy Blues” that belies its title, Kirk stating in his own sleevenote annotations that he wants them to play it when he dies. (Forty years ahead of Keith Richards’ controversial suggested celebration of his late father, Kirk goes on to say, “I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me and hope they get something out of it”.) Ever so gradually, though, the tune loosens up and unwinds. “A Laugh For Rory”, written for Roland’s young son, is full of gulping, bluesy flute work that suggests an influence on Ian Anderson, a connection made explicit by the cover of Kirk’s “Serenade To A Cuckoo” on the first Jethro Tull album. “Many Blessings” finds Kirk whipping Coltrane-esque sheets of sound from his saxophone, and “Lovellevelliloqui” features the kind of vaulting, somersaulting melody that was all over the “Giant Steps” album. Opening with all kinds of exotic percussion, “Fingers In The Wind” unfolds into a deceptively laidback piece given a rasping edge by Kirk’s unconventional woodwind choices, yet the calm is stridently shattered by Roland’s ranting preacher outbursts. Although, as noted, the album resides some way from the anticipated far-out craziness, the cover of a Duke Ellington tune, “The Creole Love Call”, seems a little too much of a corrective in the opposite direction, well done though it undoubtedly is. “A Handful Of Fives” is all impish mischievousness – or what the sleevenotes describe somewhat dismissively as “just middle of the road blowing” – there perhaps being a link between its titular numeral and its raucous rhythmic approximation to a certain famous Dave Brubeck Quartet tune.
The currently available factory-fresh vinyl pressing of “The Inflated Tear” is a Scorpio. It’s a nicely presented facsimile of an original issue, right down to the period Atlantic labels and spurious nonsense about “CSG Stereo” on the sleeve. It sounds rather rough and ready, however, on music fully deserving a little more care and attention.