Roland Kirk ‘Anthology. The Atlantic Years 1965-1976’ (Warner) 4/5

Multi-reedist extraordinaire Roland Kirk divided fans and critics alike with his own unique high energy brand of post-bop jazz that willingly and effortlessly took on board new developments in contemporary black American music at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now view these recordings in a slightly different light and simply appreciate Roland Kirk for what he was: an amazingly/highly versatile and proficient player who was steeped in the blues, the then emerging soul and jazz genres, and, in addition, had a wide ranging love of music that also took in Hindemith, Villa-Lobos as well as Fats Domino. While his recordings on Warner as a whole cannot be considered a comprehensive guide to his career overall (a simliar anthology of the early 1960s period on Mercury is required to superseed the expensive and now long deleted complete recordings package that surfaced in France during the 1990s), within the framework of the one label here it is does cover the essential material and goes a bit beyond that two, though unlike an earlier 2 CD set ‘Does your love have lions’, it does not include Kirk’s participation in the Mingus band (these sides are readily available elsewhere for those interested). For those not already familiar with the musician’s craft, it is a fine place to begin and then supplement with individual albums of the calibre of ‘We Free Kings’ and ‘Rip, Rag and Panic’.
By the mid-1960s Roland Kirk was a fully mature musician and the live recording which opens CD 1 from ‘Here comes the whistleman’ is testimony to this. Of all the numbers that can be immediately appreciated by even a passive fan of jazz, ‘Making love after hours’ is a fine way to introduce Kirk to a wider audience. It also affords the listener the opportunity to hear a then young Lonnie Liston Smith accompanying on acoustic piano. For lovers of a more intense style of jazz, ‘A tribute to John Coltrane’,  from a live recording on the 1968 LP ‘Volunteered slavery’ will fit the bill nicely and evidence of Kirk’s appreciation of what came before as does ‘Lady’s Blues’, another homage this time to Billie Holiday. However, Kirk was a keen listener of new trends and within a year of Bill Withers recording the classic ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, the reedist had produced his own inimitable version, complete with added percussion, miscellaneous instrumentation from Sonelius Smith and even background vocals courtesy of one Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney. CD 2 features one of Roland Kirk’s most beloved compositions, ‘Serenade to a cuckoo’, which was an ideal pretext for Kirk to display his mastery of a panoplia of instrumentation including the nose flute as well as the newly invented manzello and stritch.
One could quibble with the odd selection and there are some omissions such as the title track of  ‘Bright moments’, but that would be splitting hairs. Ideally one would have liked a large photo of Roland holding and playing more than one reed instrmuent simultaneously and, believe me, this was no mere gimmick, but rather the sign of a highly original artist in full flow. Terrific value for money and extremely generous timing with full details on the recordings and useful notes from jazz writer Kevin Le Gendre.  Tim Stenhouse