Rahsaan Roland Kirk / Roland Kirk

Here Comes the Whistleman

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Here Comes the Whistleman showcases Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1967 with a fine band, live in front of a host of invited guests at Atlantic Studios in New York. His band for the occasion is stellar: Jacki Byard or Lonnie Smith on piano, Major Holley on bass, Lonnie Smith on piano, and Charles Crosby on drums. This is the hard, jump blues and deep R&B Roland Kirk band, and from the git, on "Roots," they show why. Kirk comes screaming out of the gate following a double time I-IV-V progression, with Holley punching the accents along the bottom and Byard shoving the hard tight chords up against Kirk's three-horn lead. The extended harmony Kirk plays -- though the melody line is a bar walking honk -- is extreme, full of piss and vinegar. On the title track, along with the artist's requisite, and genuinely good, humor, Kirk breaks out the whistles on top of the horn for a blues stomp with Smith taking over the piano chores. Smith plays a two chord vamp, changing the accent before he beings to break it open into a blues with skittering fills and turnarounds while Kirk blows circularly for 12 and 14 bars at a time. Byard returns for a tender and stirring duet rendition of "I Wished on the Moon," with his own glorious rich lyricism. And here is where Kirk displays the true measure of his ability as a saxophonist. Turning the ballad inside out, every which way without overstating the notes. Here, Ben Webster meets Coleman Hawkins in pure lyric ecstasy. The set officially ends with the wailing flute and sax jam "Aluminum Baby," (both courtesy of the irrepressible Kirk) and the bizarre ride of "Step Right Up" where Kirk sings scat in a dialect that sounds like Pop-eye. Now that's where the LP version ended, but the Label M CD reissue tags on, without credits anywhere two absolutely essential scorchers with what seems to be Byard on piano and an over-the-top bass blowout from Holley. Kirk plays saxophones on both, being his own horn section. This makes an already satisfying date an essential one. Given these additions, this might arguably be the place to start for an interested but underexposed listener who wants to experience how dazzlingly original Kirk was.

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