< Quick Spotlight: The Separate But Equal sounds of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef
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Quick Spotlight: The Separate But Equal sounds of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef

By Benson Knickerbocker

Multi-instrumentalists Yusef Lateef and Rahsaan Roland Kirk must hold a certain place in Producer Joel Dorn’s heart. Since his label’s, 32 Jazz, inception, these two artists’ recordings have been the spearhead of 32 Jazz re-release onslaught. Much of this may have to do with the camaraderie that existed between Dorn and the musicians themselves, but it really harks back to Dorn’s ability to identify the whereabouts of great recordings. Out of all of the albums that Dorn can choose from the Atlantic vaults, he always comes up with winners. It just happens to be that the winners are Yusef Lateef and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The two latest hidden gems that have surfaced are Lateef’s Part of the Search and Kirk’s The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color. In a continuing attempt to make music affordable, 32 Jazz releases these two albums under one cover as "Separate But Equal". What makes these two albums special is that they symbolize divergent recordings from each artist’s traditional sound. As the name, Separate But Equal, implies, these two musicians may have taken different approaches to their music, but they were the same in their soling talent; their arrangements and their drive to create fresh music.

 

Yusef Lateef/Part of the Search

Not quite the "world music" that Yusef Lateef introduced to jazz, Part of the Search is full of both nostalgia and quirky experiments. The segments in between the songs give off the suggestion of someone turning a radio dial. By providing these segments of static and noise, Lateef evokes the impression of variety and choice. This is also reflected in the different song styles on the album. On "K.C. Shuffle", "Rockhouse" and "Lunceford Prance", Lateef is joined by his big band and images of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie immediately come to mind. "Oatsy Doatsy" was arranged by San Antone guitarist Doug Sahm which is certified country-blues, but short in span (:41). In a similar abbreviated fashion, "Superfine" is reminiscent of the boogie-woogie barrelhouse style mastered by Professor Longhair. There are also some vocal contributions: "In The Still Of The Night" is Motown Do-Wop at its best while "Big Bass Drum" is a humorous look at work songs of yore. At moments, the album is straightforward swing jazz and then at the moment, there is evidence of all-out Zappian humor and satire. In addition to his standard group of Kenneth Barron (piano), Robert Cunningham (bass) and Alberta Kuumba Heath (drums), Lateef brought in over 30 musicians for this eclectic session.

 

Rahsaan Roland Kirk/ The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color

Similar to Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk deviated from his regular music style for 1975’s The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color. While previous Kirk albums were overly ambitious (Kirk was well known for his lengthy musical suites) or dark (Kirk was also known for his political/social statements), The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color was a much lighter fare for the talented multi-instrumentalist. Also parallel to Lateef’s Part of the Search, Kirk used small segments between the songs to provide room for dialogue or little instrumental snippets. Although less humorous than Lateef, these breaks created a sense of musical non-continuity. This musical variety signifies Kirk’s light approach to the album. Kirk’s range of styles is shown from the album’s outset, which begins with a brief dialogue and then a version of "Bye Bye Blackbird" which is treated with wonderful cool jazz flair. After another brief interlude, things get tremendously ( and subsequently un-Kirk like) funky with "High Heel Sneakers". When thinking of jazz-funk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk never came to my mind. It was always Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, or Donald Byrd, but never the elusive and enigmatic Roland Kirk. That has been all changed with one listen to "High Heel Sneakers". This enlightenment is further supported with the slightly more spiritual, but equally groovy "Echoes of Primitive Ohio and Chili Dogs" and "Freaks for the Festival". Things are capped off by the very bluesy version of Scott Joplin’s "The Entertainer" (Imagine seeing The Sting and Shaft as one movie).

Both of these 32 Jazz re-releases offer new insights on two very talented musicians. Personally, I typecast both Lateef and Kirk for playing distinct jazz styles and these two releases supported this ignorance. In some sort of irony, Kirk’s "Portrait of Those Beautiful Ladies", which features a bluesy spiritual beat and a great flute solo, sounds like it should belong on a Yusef Lateef album while Lateef’s "Strange Lullaby" represents a mood piece more reflective of Kirk. Much of this change of styles had to do with the changing musical environment. As rock and roll grabbed hold the mainstream music industry, jazz musicians became more experimental. While Kirk may have "sold out" as he went funky, Lateef let his sense of structure go and tried anything that came to mind. Regardless of their reasoning, the important thing is that the music is still good.