Turntable Tuesday: Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery
Though we spend most of our time in the music section writing about new material, Turntable Tuesday allows us to look back, and look closely at some captivating albums in our catalog. This week’s column hones in on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery, a freaky, funky medley of live and studio recordings from the multi-instrumentalist.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk is an oddball hero in jazz, an artform loaded with idiosyncratic characters. Inspired by his dreams, Kirk changed his name twice in his lifetime; first to Roland from his birth name of Ronald, then, in 1970, Kirk tacked Rahsaan to the front of his name after hearing it in a dream. Upon his death in 1977, Kirk asked his closest friends to mix his ashes with marijuana and smoke him.
In his music too, Kirk thought outside of tradition. Early in his career, he picked up simultaneous instrumentation, the wild sight and sound of playing two saxophones at once. Though he was cast off initially as a sideshow, works like 1968′s Inflated Tear and Volunteered Slavery proudly put those claims to rest. Shredding on the nose flute, manzello, stritch, flute, stylophones, whistles and the tenor sax, Kirk’s sheer range of sound proved his as an unmatched style in jazz. His pure, soulful tone on these instruments made Kirk an enviable name as a featured musician, on the rare occasions that he didn’t lead the recording date.
On Volunteered Slavery, Kirk spotlights the instrument of his voice too, singing with his Spirit Choir through half of the album’s ten tracks. Kirk funkifies the music of Stevie Wonder and Burt Bacharach, stretching the choruses from the these tunes into extended, energetic jams. Of course, Kirk performs his own tunes, including a bangin’ title track that melds the most powerful of Kirk’s multi-instrumental and vocal talents with a soulful horn section and a brief “Hey Jude” interlude.