if movie fans do not know his name, they have heard his work, thanks to Quincy
Jones. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s reeds can be heard on the soundtrack for In the Heat of the Night and on Jones’ “Soul
Bossa Nova,” a tune many people know as the Austin
Powers theme. However, for real jazz listeners, Kirk requires no
introduction. Adam Kahan pays tribute to the music and life force of the multi-reed
titan in The Case of the Three Sided
screens today at SXSW.
tenor was Kirk’s mainstay, but some of his most famous recordings feature his
distinctive flute attack. He was also the preeminent stritch and manzello
player, bar none. If that were not enough, he could also get incredible sounds
out of clarinets, harmonicas, recorders, and sundry whistles. A true multi-instrumentalist,
Kirk played any number of horns simultaneously, at a virtuoso level. Given his
remarkable showmanship and an unearthly proficiency for circular breathing, Kirk
was often criticized for resorting to gimmicks, but musicians like his former
boss Charles Mingus knew better. To paraphrase Phil Woods, if it is just a
gimmick, why don’t you try to do it? Incidentally, Kirk happened to be blind
since infancy, due to a doctor’s negligence.
all honesty, it is probably impossible to make a dull film about Kirk,
considering the power of his music and personality. Frankly, there are scores
of memorable episodes in John Kruth’s biography Bright Moments that did not find their way into the film.
Nonetheless, Dream is more visually ambitious
than most documentaries, using animation to help convey the spirit of Kirk’s inimitable
stage pronouncements, which were a show in themselves. Yet, Kahan never pursues
style at the expense of his subject.
to many jazz docs, Dream features a
relatively small cast of talking heads, but each one counts for a lot.
Particularly notable are Kirk’s widow Dorthaan, who is a jazz institution
herself through her work with WBGO (the public supported jazz radio station
serving the New York-New Jersey area), and Steve Turre, Kirk’s sideman and protégé,
who followed the leader’s example to become a masterful jazz soloist on the
course, the music is really the thing in any doc like Dream. As adventurous as Kirk was, anyone comfortable with more
soulful forms of hard bop will inhale his music like ice cream on a hot summer
day. Still, Kahan’s generous clips demonstrate the difficulty in classifying
Kirk under any general label. It is also rather ironic to see archival footage
of Kirk’s all-star ensemble on the Ed
Sullivan Show, opting for “Haitian Fight Song” instead of the
producer-approved “Mon Cherie Amour,” since the propulsive Mingus standard would
eventually be licensed for a Volkswagen commercial, in a slightly reworked form.
enough, Kirk’s “greatest hit” “Bright Moments” is referenced but not heard in Dream. That’s fair enough, but SXSW
patrons could probably use its joyous sounds after the tragic incident late
Wednesday. Regardless, Kirk’s music always has a restorative effect and Kahan
presents it well. Highly recommended, The
Case of the Three Sided Dream screens again today (3/15), as this year’s
SXSW comes to a close.
Labels: Documentary, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, SXSW '14