This album makes me smile every time I put it on, plain and simple.
Saxophonist/Reed-ist/Flutist Roland Kirk was best known for playing multiple instruments at once (tenor sax, soprano sax and stritch, for instance) and for his circular breathing technique whereby he could seemingly play forever without taking a breath. However, simply citing such showmanship would sell this one short.
Kirk’s technical mastery of his various saxophones, flutes and whistles (yes, whistles!) combined with seven original charts and two clever covers creates a sound palette rarely heard elsewhere. The original opener “Three For The Festival” kicks things off with some unusual, dark harmonies on saxophones, then adds in some urgent flute playing that immediately gets your attention. “A Sack Full Of Soul” is a rollicking affair that, again, features weird, multi-instrument harmonies, while “A Haunted Melody” features expertly subtle and delicate phrasing that, indeed, plays true to this number’s title. (Conversely, Kirk at times plays with an acrid brittleness that adds an “in-your-face” tonality to some pieces.) A cover of Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice” and guttural vocal pleadings on “You Did It, You Did It” complement an already strong track list. Sympathetic rhythm section support and clever arranging bolster things even further.
“We Free Kings” is soulful without getting self-absorbed, playful without getting silly and genuinely unique without getting too far-out. Strangely, there is sort of a well-worn quality here that probably accounts for much of my aforementioned smiling. The whole thing just comes across as a magic mixture, unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
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