Let us now praise famous men.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a hero at a time when jazz needed heroes. As the flame of the '60s flickered, Kirk rose from the bands of Charles Mingus and Quincy Jones to carry the torch. He wasn't just a player, he was a leader and a proselytizer, a champion and a standard bearer. Especially on his excellent Atlantic sides, he kept hope alive while the tides of fusion and dubious inspiration rose. So 26 years after his death, we cannot but be grateful when new recordings surface.
The "mysterious phantom" who presents us with this set is former Atlantic producer Joel Dorn, to whom thanks are due for overseeing many of Kirk's brightest moments. If this one is a little dimmer, well, that's par for the posthumous course.
This set was recorded in San Diego in November 1974, with pianist Hilton Ruiz, one of Kirk's closer collaborators, and a quintet that included Henry Pearson, John Goldsmith and Samson Verge. As any of his live recordings - most notably Rahsaan Rahsaan - show, Kirk was an exciting and charismatic performer. The disc doesn't include much of his show-stopper moments (prolonged circular breathing solos, playing several horns at once) but is more of a straight-ahead jamboree. Some of his later compositions, such as "Volunteered Slavery" and "Blacknuss", receive strong readings, and any opportunity to hear Kirk's extemporizing on race, death and the music shouldn't be missed.
All of which makes this a good record, but not quite a great one. It's hard to imagine that Kirk ever had an off night, but Courtesy pales next to previous live Kirk recordings. Given the number of musicians that would pale next to Kirk, however, the point is purely academic.
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