In the 60s, tenor saxophonist and multi-instrument wiz Roland Kirk was an anomaly in a decade of anomalies. In an era where Jazz Musicians were supposed to be Serious Artists, Kirk was both an Artist AND an entertainer - when the Jazz World was drawing battle lines between orthodoxy and shattering convention, between groove and suspension of groove, between mainstream bop/swing, Soul-Jazz and Free Music, Kirk refused to take sides and instead embraced the music’s past AND future. Kirk could play like Ben Webster one moment, King Curtis the next and Albert Ayler the following.
This disc is a reissue of a long out-of-print Atlantic album from 1969: half-studio ("side one") and half-live ("side two") at the Newport Jazz Festival. With this album, Kirk does for the late 60s Top 40 what John Coltrane did for "My Favorite Things." He performs Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach songs with a mix of sincere affection and satirical rowdiness - he adores the melodies while he burlesques ("My Cherie Amour" with intentionally flatly sung "LA LA LA’s") and opens them up wide and soars them into the heavens ("I Say A Little Prayer"). While many players of the day either acted like pop and R&B didn’t exist or acted as if Jazz’s progress stopped at Sonny Rollins, Kirk strove to be both "far-out" and "in the pocket," to purr and roar
in the same set or even the same tune. His band mates are up to the task, maintaining potent swing/groove and some bristling, to-the-point solos. The only down side to this set is the shambling, rather tuneless Spirit Choir on a couple of songs as they "sing" some painfully naïve lyrics ("everyone has a dream/everything has a scheme/let’s all search for the reason the whyyyyy") that probably sounded "deep" and "questing" in ’69 but just sound silly today. But that’s only on 2 or 3 tracks - the rest is stratospheric and timeless.