Personnel: Rahsaan Roland Kirk (flute, manzello, tenor saxophone, siren); Jaki Byard (piano); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Benjamin, Richard Davis (bass guitar); Alan Dawson , Art Taylor (drums).
Audio Remasterer: Joe Tarantino.
This disc places (pre-Rahsaan )Roland Kirk's 1961 session Kirk's Work, the multi-instrumentalist's second album after one for Argo (Cadet) together with a prime, 1968 Jaki Byard LP on which Kirk was a sideman called The Jaki Byard Experience. This was a way Prestige (then owned by Fantasy Records) of packaging its catalog. They did two-fers like this one, as well as career retrospectives, on any number of artists in double-LP sets. In the early 21st century, these are being remastered and reissued on CDs in the label's Architects of Jazz series. Kirk's date puts him in the company of organist (pre-Brother) Jack McDuff, drummer Art Taylor, and bassist Joe Benjamin. The program consists of four originals and three standards. While Kirk is very sure of himself here, the backing trio seems to have some difficulty with the sharp changes in tempo and dynamic he puts across. McDuff has the ability to comp throughout, but takes some chances anyway on the slyly beautiful and saucy "Makin' Whoopee," and on Kirk's killer early soul-jazz number "Funk Underneath." Taylor and Benjamin aren't nearly as sure of themselves, although they clearly try to provide support. This does not mean these tunes are not worth hearing. They are -- simply because even at this early juncture, Kirk arrived on the scene fully formed and fully developed as an artist and as a natural bandleader. The groove-laden blues "Three for Dizzy" and the Latin-tinged blues of "Doin' the Sixty Eight," (thanks to Taylor's cymbal breaks) show Kirk in full command of how many shades of the music he was capable of combining and playing.
The second of these dates with Byard, Kirk, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Alan Dawson offers a killer view of not one but two musical iconoclasts. Byard was as wonderfully diverse as Kirk, capable of showcasing the entire history of jazz, blues, and R&B in a single tune. The radical reading of Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" here is a prime example. Byard's rhythmic approach is stellar, seamless, and endlessly inventive, giving Kirk lots of room to explore the bop head: after a somewhat lengthy, angular intro, Byard turns the changes inside out more than once. The version of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" is another case in point where in one section Byard inverts the changes on the right hand and plays them "straight" on the left. This gives Kirk room to work his horns like an entire horn section, calling back in delight with what he hears. Byard's originals are really where it's at though. The glorious ballad "Hazy Eye," invokes everyone from Monk and Herbie Nichols (pretty different approaches there, eh?) to Billy Strayhorn and even Art Tatum. The reading of "Shine on Me," an old gospel tune, is the most wondrous thing on this set. The delight Byard has in extrapolating the simply major chords, and Kirk's work on the clarinet here, evokes early New Orleans jazz and the vanguard; when he switches to tenor, he digs into the meat and potatoes of the tune even as Byard's big block chords and the rhythm section's straight up, popping 4/4 keep it in line and recognizable. This is a killer session and the better of the two because of the sheer delight and adventure these two startlingly outside jazzmen have in playing together. ~ Thom Jurek