The problem, I assume, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s music, and more specifically, why a lot of modern day jazz listeners haven’t gotten around to him, is that he hasn’t released a magnum opus by way of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Kind of Blue/Bitches Brew or A Love Supreme or The Shape of Jazz to Come or Saxophone Colossus. Instead, Kirk steamrolled his way from inception to his untimely death in the late 70s with very few mis-steps; it’s easier to hear one album than it is to hear, say, ten. (Of course, Jaki Byard – who played with Kirk, has released a magnum opus of his own in The Jaki Byard Experience that still toils in relative despite decades, so maybe it has nothing to do with the number of great albums one releases?)
For the uninitiated, Rahsaan Roland Kirk has a style that’s as distinct as any of the aforementioned Mingus or Davis or Coltrane or Coleman or Rollins; this was a man who would take to the stage with several instruments daggling around his neck, who would sing in the general direction of his flute to produce two different sounds simultaneously, who would release a triple LP for the sake of releasing a triple LP (outdoing Kamasi Washington by four decades and half the time) – this one. The flip-side is that critics often wrote his music off as gimmicks or praised it when it was gimmick-free. Quoting Giddins for the billionth time, “To say such an artist that he had no ear for the gimmick is like saying that Art Tatum never played florid runs and John Coltrane never squealed. What counts is what they did with the gimmicks, the runs, the squeals.”
The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color, released after one of his greatest albums (Prepare Thyself to Deal With a Miracle) is his most frustrating album – as mentioned, a triple LP for the sake of being a triple LP. Truthfully, there’s a single disc’s worth of actual stuff here, but it’s been padded out with skits (the sort that’ll populate hip-hop albums in years to come) detailing conversations with a Computer God (which might’ve had any sort of poignancy if Rahsaan Roland Kirk did anything with them – the “shocking” revelation that he saw a woman having sex with a computer on the opening skit leads straight into one of his fluffiest songs) and a lot of tracks titled “Dream” that only segue into the next song if you’re lucky (“Horses”) but can all be scotched without a second thought. Oh, and he ends the album with a twelve minute track of silence before saying thank you for listening; the method of hiding bonus tracks about two decades ahead of schedule!
But the good stuff here is assuredly good; good enough for you to get past the gimmick and the pretensions, and considering most of you have already accepted The Epic or Olivia Tremor Control’s two albums (the “Dream” pieces are essentially the same as Black Foliage’s “Black Foliage” skits), I’m sure you’ll have no issues. As expected for long-players, The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color documents Kirk’s breadth: showcasing his tendency for 2-minute jazz-pop (in both versions of “Bye Bye Blackbird”), post-bop (the first version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” – you’ll recognize it when you hear it – subtitled “Done in the Style of the Blues”), psychedelic jazz explorations which makes sense given Sun Ra’s baritone saxophone Pat Patrick’s here (the second version of “The Entertainer”) and especially jazz-funk (“High Heel Sneakers”; “Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs”; “Freaks for the Festival”). Details: the counterpoint between Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the piano on “High Heel Sneakers”; the bass work on “Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs”; either version of “Portrait of Those Beautiful Ladies,” the first light flute-funk and the second, a completely different beast. But especially, check out the second version of “The Entertainer,” once Kirk begins his saxophone solo – obliterating the melodic theme with concussive blasts of pure energy, and bringing back that familiar theme in a smooth transition.
Assuredly, it’s not perfect: the multiple versions of three separate songs on the same disc shows a lack of ideas from a man that was absolutelybrimming with ideas in the 60s; the first version of “The Entertainer” is much too on-the-nose for repeated plays; both “Bye Bye Blackbird”’s are nice, if as mentioned, fluffy. So maybe I’m overrating it by giving it an A- instead of a B+ given its obvious flaws, but maybe I’m disheartened by the complete lack of interest in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s discography by supposed jazz lovers, or the discrepancy between the critical acclaim and the music within Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, which essentially took this album’s gimmick and doubled it without doubling the quality of music. (Put it this way, not only does this album accomplish a bigger breadth in less time, but Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s solos aren’t derivative.)
The funniest part? One of his minor albums. And they named the 2014 documentary after this one? Instead of We Free Kings, Volunteered Slaveryor I Talk With the Spirits – all headier titles of better albums? Well, shiiit.