Go Ask Rahsaan

By Greg Cahill

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Dog Years in the Fourth Ring
(32 Jazz)

JOHN COLTRANE’S Live at the Village Vanguard: The Complete Sessions (GRP/Impulse!) may have been the big winner in the race to sell jazz-reissue box sets over the holiday season, but local stores moved more than a few of this three-CD gem, thanks to word-of-mouth acclaim by die-hard free-bop jazz buffs.

Producer Joel Dorn–the man responsible for many of the great Rhino/Atlantic reissues over the past couple of years–has pulled together an awesome set of rare tracks from one of the jazz world’s most underappreciated innovators.

Kirk, an Ornette Coleman free-jazz disciple who was blinded shortly after birth, died in 1975 at age 41.

In his Jazz: America’s Classical Music (Prentice-Hall, 1984), Marin jazz writer and educator Grover Sales hailed Kirk as “a complete original … one of the most fertile imaginations ever to grace the world of jazz.”

Before his untimely death, Kirk mastered a technique that he called “splitting of the lobes,” in which this remarkable reedman sometimes played three saxes simultaneously, separately fingering the melody and two-part harmonies.

At first scorned as gimmicky, this difficult style is now recognized by jazz authorities as a legitimate progression in the jazz world.

One thing is clear: Kirk–technically brilliant and rhythmically fearless–embraced an all-inclusive historical concept that encompassed New Orleans second-line struts, Kansas City Swing, and avant-garde free jazz, sometimes in a single tune.

“You never knew what was going to happen,” recalls Kirk pianist Hilton Ruiz. “It was all part of the performance. It was amazing, not like just playing a gig, but an experience.”

Listening to these alternately soulful ballads and bold experimental works is still spellbinding. On the first two discs, Kirk swings, swoops, squeaks, and squawks his way through 19 previously unreleased tracks, all recorded live (and, believe me, it’s a marvel that there were no overdubs).

The collection is a special treat since Kirk, who seldom recorded cover songs, can be heard improvising his way through such pieces as Burt Bacharach’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader,” Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In,” and John Coltrane’s classic “Giant Steps.”

The third CD–the rarely heard 1971 Atlantic album Natural Black Inventions–is a free-jazz wonderland and one rabbit hole you won’t want to avoid.

Peter Case
Full Service, No Waiting

THE POP WORLD is full of faux folkies–Jewel, Shawn Colvin–and I wouldn’t give you a busted guitar pick for the lot of ’em. Singer/songwriter Peter Case, on the other hand, gets little respect, even though he sort of helped invent this whole damned unplugged, acoustic-oriented folk-with-a-punk-sensibility thing. Listen up, children.

Case cofounded the West Coast band the Nerves, along with Paul Collins (who later formed the legendary Beat). In 1978, Case formed the power-pop band the Plimsouls, an early college radio fave. The Plimsouls landed two major label deals, never sold diddlysquat, but got a cameo in the teen flick Valley Girl.

Now it’s 1984, and Case is a born-again Christian and married to quirky Texas singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, with whom he forms the Incredibly Strung Out Band. Cut to 1989: Case has a new divorce and a critically acclaimed eponymous album. Three years later, he records Six Pack of Love with David Lindley, Jim Keltner, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo–hey, the guy’s got serious roots credentials.

In 1994, he teams up with ex-Plimsoul Eddie Munoz, and the following year they knock out a great live folk-blues collection.

So is that any reason to buy Full Service, No Waiting, Case’s first album in four years? Hell no, fool–it’s a comfy, folksy, honey-child-sitting-next-to-me-in-a-’58-Ford-pickup sort of disc–a bit mystical, a little world-weary, but none the worse for the wear.

Buy it.
Sal Hepatica

From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.