Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Aces Back to Back

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Whether or not the four individual albums packaged with in Aces Back to Back are among Rahsaan Roland Kirk's finest is of no consequence. The fact that they have been assembled in a package that offers the listener a sense of Kirk's development and continuity is the issue here. And in this way, Aces Back to Back is a supreme collection. The four albums included -- Left & Right, Rahsaan Rahsaan, Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle, and Other Folks Music -- date from 1969 to 1976 and chart dimensional growth of Kirk's completely original music. There's the outsider wizardry of Left & Right that melds the innovations of John Coltrane and Scott Joplin across an entire range of highly experimental yet wonderfully human music. Guests included Roy Haynes, Alice Coltrane, Julius Watkins, and many others in a band that ranged from a quartet to a full orchestra. Then there are the nine musicians who appear on Rahsaan Rahsaan, among them avant violinist Leroy Jenkins. Here, from the margins comes Kirk's preaching and poetry and also yielded the classics "The Seeker" and "Baby Let Me Shake Your Tree." The fact that they open and close the album, respectively, reveals not only Kirk's diversity, but also his commitment to a universal black music. Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle is Kirk's meditation on orchestral music juxtaposed against folk and R&B forms. Form the opening "Salvation and Reminiscing," where the string section carries a monadic theme into microtonal territory, Kirk uses the "ugliness" to achieve great beauty which is fully realized when he combines a revved-up version of "Balm in Gilead" with a section of Ralph Vaughn Williams' Pastoral Symphony on "Seasons." Finally, with the issue of Others Folks Music, Kirk contributes only one composition, a beautiful meditation entitled "Water for Robeson and Williams." The rest is made up of the music of Charlie Parker ("Donna Lee"), Kirk's then pianist Hilton Ruiz ("Arrival"), Frank Foster ("Simone"), and others. This is a loose, roughneck record where Kirk uses the harmonics of others to transform his own into something that would make the music itself larger than any of its individual parts. In all for the price tag, this is a solid buy, revealing the most misunderstood innovator in the history of jazz.

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