October 4, 2000
We Did it, We Did it! The Music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and More
Splasc(h) Records CDH 811/812/813
WE DID IT, WE DID IT, a salute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, one of jazz's most distinctive personalities, is as large, sprawling and multi-faceted as the man it chooses to honor. Taking up three CDs and nearly four hours of music, the project tries to reflect nearly every phase of the Kirk's art.
A multi-instrumentalist — flute, tenor saxophonist, manzello, stritch and whistles —, Kirk (1936 - 1977) never let his blindness stand in the way of his creativity and packed a couple of lifetimes into his 41 years. As conversant with the music of Sidney Bechet as Charles Mingus, and with the sort of amazing breath control that allowed him to play three instruments at once, he could jump in-and-out of modern jazz, Dixieland, world music and R&B at the drop of the top hat he sometimes wore. A prototypical rapper and showman as well as an extraordinary instrumentalist, he influenced rock bands as well as many jazzers.
As an adolescent, Italian percussionist Tononi first discovered Kirk's work and through it the rest of jazz history. This set, described as the "ultimate, updated, contemporary jazz version", is his payback.
That he succeeds so well can be attributed to the fact that he has no time for whet he calls "politically correct, straight-to-bed jazz" and, to use a tired Sixties expression, lets it all hang out to its furthest limit. He has a book of memorable Kirk compositions to use as a base and — being less than superhuman — is shored up by the talents of 15 other top improvisers plus some sampled swaths of Kirk's distinctive voice.
With many of his helpmates, like himself, members of the all-star Italian Instabile Orchestra, he certainly has a wealth of talent on which to draw. Mixing non-Rahsaan, po-mo touches like turntables, electric guitars and a tuba into the concoction creates a more impressive endproduct. And by adding his own compositions and those of Kirk's progenitors to the Rahsaan material he creates a salute that's as unlike any of those bloodless jazz neo-con recreations as Kirk was from any Marsalis.
Take "Serenade To A Cuckoo," for instance This flute tour-de-force made Ian Anderson's career with Jethro Tull after he "borrowed" it from Rahsaan. There's little piping to be heard on Tononi's interpretation, though, merely Caruso's deepdish trombone tones, smooth electric guitar and Cavallanti's baritone saxophone.
Similarly "A Laugh For Rory "centres around powerful trumpeting from American expatriate Robertson and a lumbering melody from tubaist Godard. "The Black & Crazy Blues" isn't treated as a Southwestern blow out either, but as a gentler piece that alternates piccolo and restrained percussion with gospel-like organ swells. Furthermore, it's very likely that Duke Ellington never imagined "The Mooche" would be given the full electric Miles Davis treatment with shimmering electric guitar interludes courtesy of Cecchetto.
Outstanding as well are the percussionist's own tunes, injecting a further level of levity with new sounds and styles that probably would have fascinated Kirk. They also extend Kirk's conception to the 21st century. And, as one of the most accomplished percussion masters in Europe, Tononi's able to find the groove in anything that can be hit, banged or stroked from the regular trap set to exotic tom-toms.
Exhaustive as well as exhausting, if WE DID IT has a drawback it's that Tononi may have tried to cram too much into the three discs. Reading over the dedications and tunes, you note that besides Kirk he also attempts to pay homage to Ellington, Sun Ra, John Gilmore, The Watts Prophets. Jethro Tull, Fats Waller, Bechet, Davis, Ed Blackwell, Archie Shepp, Mingus, Dannie Richmond, imprisoned Black panthers and Native Americans, Old and New Dreams, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Steve Lacy, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley.
Some tunes fit onto the Kirkatron seamlessly, but others — especially those from the last three pop stars — don't. Unfortunately their inclusion seems to posit the shortsighted idea that all Black-created music is related. It is, in a way, but the genius of Kirk and his heroes such as Ellington and Trane went beyond popular music, no matter how honestly created. All together, though, the three songs take up less than 13 minutes at the very end of the session.
Besides that minor misstep Tononi has come up with discs that confirm his talents as much as they honor Kirk's.
Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Detuning #1 2. Amazing Grace 3. Open Strings 4. We Free Kings 5. A Handful Of Fives 6. Duality 7. A Laugh For Rory 8. The Creole Love Call 9. The Mooche 10. Happy, Sad, Like Everybody Else 11. The Black & Crazy Blues 12. Juxtaposition: Against/With 13. Geo(Metrics) 14. The Inflated Tear 15. Theme For the Eulipions
Disc 2: 1. Isn't That Crazy 2. Variable Density 3. Pedal Up 4. Chamber Music 5. ... Getting Groovy 6. Clickety Clack 7. Serenade To A Cuckoo 8.The Jitterbug Waltz 9. Petite Fleur 10. The Sacred Metal Forest 11. Blacknuss 12. Miles/Electric 13. The 3 Tenors 14. Spirits Up Above 15. Olu-Bata 16. Volunteered Slavery 17. Ecclesiastics 18. Goodbye Pork Porkpie Hat 19. Remember Rockefeller At Attica 20. Attica Blues
Disc 3: 1. Orchestra De-tuning #2 in Gb 2. Gongs, 5s and 7s 3. Rip, Rig & Panic 4. Mystical Movement 5. Slippery, Hippery, Flippery 6. White Noise, No Noise 7. Narrow Bolero (The Jungle Version) 8. No Tonic Press 9. Misterioso 10. After The Rain 11. Ebrauqs 12. The Multiphonics Tuba Trio 13. Slippery, Hippery, Flippery 14. Juarez 15. Mater Blaster 16. Hear My Train A Comin' 17. Redemption Song
Personnel: Herb Robertson (trumpet); Beppe Caruso (trombone, euphonium, shell, tuba); Michel Godard (tuba); Renato Geremia (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, violin); Achille Succi (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Gianluigi Trovesi (alto saxophone); Daniele Calvallanti (tenor and baritone saxophones); Riccardo Luppi (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute and piccolo); Alberto Tacchini (piano, organ, melodica, Fender Rhodes, claping); Roberto Cecchetto (guitar, claping); Tito Mangialajo (bass, claping); Piero Leveratto (bass); Tiziano Tononi (drums, congas, percussion, tumbadoras, gongs, siren); Andrea Rainoldi (samplers, electronic devices, scratch solo); Victor Beard (recitation); Roberta Parsi (recitation and vocals); Rahsaan Roland Kirk (voice samples)