One of the most inventive saxophonists in jazz history, Rahsaan Roland Kirk could play several horns at once, and make his own instruments. By no means a novelty act, his technique was flawless. Blind from the age of two, while a teenager, he discovered the "manzello" and "stritch" - the former, a modified version of the saxello, which was itself a slightly curved variant of the B flat soprano sax; the latter, a modified straight E flat alto.
This anthology covers Kirk's time at Atlantic between 1965 and 1976, from Here Comes The Whistleman, to the seminal The Inflated Tear, Blacknuss and Volunteered Slavery, as well as his collaboration with Al Hibbler, the brilliant The Case Of The Three-Sided Dream and some material previously only available on Does Your House Have Lions?
Compiled with Jazzwise editor and writer Jon Newey, and with liner notes by Kevin Le Gendre.
Also available on 180g vinyl.
Thirty-five years after his death, the blind multi-instrumentalist still leaves you feeling as if you have been run over by a one-man version of the Mingus Band. He brought a touch of the shaman to the playing three horns simultaneously. Listening to him on disc can never quite capture the theatricality; moreover, trademark tracks such as The Inflated Tear bring a strain of let-it-all-hang-out self -indulgence to this overview of his later work. Yet the Ellingtonia is intriguing, and even at his windiest Kirk had something much of the contemporary jazz world lacks: soul. The Sunday Times
"The term genius is too easily bandied about these days, but the late, great horn player was certainly one. This long overdue collection omits some gems in his illustrious canon, but newcomers can't afford to miss out." Daily Mirror
"He just about had it all - and his music still sends shivers up the spine 35 years after his death." All About Jazz
"Its tertiary title is 1965-76 The Atlantic Years, and that completes the primary information you need. Kirk fans will already have all this stuff, but for neophytes this is a good place to experience the carnival of influences that constituted Kirk's latter-day oeuvre: truly a raucous child of Charles Mingus. Kirk played sax, manzello, clarinet, flute and whistle, sometimes all at once. His music is deeply, culturally, consciously "black" to the limit. Sometimes gloriously." The Independent ****
"Vividly-etched portrait of an eccentric jazz genius. When Kirk succumbed to a fatal stroke aged 42 in 1977, the jazz world lost one of its most unique and versatile performers. Derided by jazz purists and dismissed as little more than a novelty or vaudeville act - especially when he played the flute while shouting into it or when he performed his party trick of playing three horns at once - Kirk left a substantial legacy of recorded music behind. Though he was affiliated with a number of labels. his most fertile period was an 11-year spell with Atlantic (1965-1976), during which time he released 12 albums and enjoyed a productive association with producer Joel Dorn. Key tracks from that time can be found on this terrific 2-CD Atlantic retrospective, which features a variety of studio material as well as some hard-to-find live performances." Mojo ****
"Kirk, who died in 1977, could play three saxophones at once, blow the flute and sing at the same time and do several other seemingly impossible things. He was blind too, and juggled all this stuff by touch alone. What came out was a kind of musical collage drawn from the whole history of jazz. He was a serious artist and woe betide anyone who suggested that his performance was some kind of freak show. This double CD pack contains some of his most impressive work, including a generous helping of his great 1968 album The Inflated Tear, along with several rarities." The Observer
"There are an awful lot of thought-provoking as well as entertaining sounds here and, thanks to the helpful notes by Kevin Le Gendre, a lot of guidance for those less than familiar with what made Kirk tick and makes him worth listening to now." Jazzwise Magazine ****
"Drenched in the blues and utilising chants, calls and gospel devices on some tracks, Kirk's music echoes much of what his former employer Mingus was doing in the 50s although Roland puts his own, very personal slant on it all. His flute sound is the very essence of jazz and is pure Kirk. Feel the blues power of Inflated Tear and Making Love. Enjoy the emotive blast of Volunteered Slavery. And on the few tracks where Roland plays just one instrument we hear what an inventive, distinctive tenor sax soloist he was. Ronnie Scott said that Roland came to his club with a nose flute, and, later, an ear flute. He wondered what sort of flute Kirk would turn up with next. Whatever, we may be sure it would still have produced great jazz." Jazz Journal *****
"Producer Joel Dorn once humorously described Rahsaan Roland Kirk as resembling 'a Christmas Tree from Pluto', referring to the array of different instruments (ranging from saxophones, sirens and whistles, to percussion and nose flutes) that were taped together, hanging off his neck and shoulders. Without doubt, Kirk's arresting visual appearance - combined with his party trick of playing three horns simultaneously - sometimes brought disapproval from Jazz purists, who viewed the Ohio-born musician as some kind of sideshow freak. Behind the outrageous showmanship and wild onstage antics, though, there was a serious and phenomenally talented musician whose achievements are only just beginning to be recognised. For the uninitiated, a new 2CD/22 track set, Spirits Up Above: The Rahsaan Roland Kirk Anthology, is a great primer and focuses on Kirk's richly fertile tenure at Atlantic during the years 1965-76. The stylistic span of the music is breathtaking, ranging from beautifully-wrought lyrical ballads to combustible hard bop workouts, funky soul-jazz excursions and incredible, unclassifiable self-penned material (such as the eerie Inflated Tear, an autobiographical song that allues to Kirk's blindness). Some rare and combustible live cuts are also included." Record Collector *****
"Kirk may have influenced rockers more than any other jazz sax player, and he's even seen with Clapton in the 1969 movie Supershow. Leaving the Mercury label after his 1965 landmark Rip, Rig And Panic, he went on to make the 13 Atlantic albums sampled here. Kicking off with two vibrant live cuts from the first of them, Here Comes The Whistleman, these 22 tracks run the gamut of Kirk's music: the trademark flute, playing two horns at once, the outlandish instruments. But it's the terrible beauty of The Inflated Tear, the title track from Kirk's 1967 album referring to the medical blunder that left him blind as a child, which makes this collection essential." Hi-Fi News