Rahsan Roland Kirk and his music exist in a universe all their own, sure he may use some of the same tonalities and rhythms as fellow jazz and RnB musicians, and he can take things off the deep end at will much like his fellows in the avant-garde, but no one else sounds like Kirk. There is an unpretentious directness to Roland’s music, a raw street level vibe that connects to the earliest days of New Orleans. You get the feeling that if Roland had not had a recording contract, he would have been out on some street corner playing the same music. “The Inflated Tear” is a great record, but don’t expect a lot of fireworks, by Kirk standards “Tear” is fairly laid back, but its not the least bit commercial, nor does Kirk hold back on his trademark personality and creativity.
Despite the uniqueness of Kirk’s music, some parallels to other artists can be drawn. His sometimes blunt approach can recall Sun Ra and Monk, his loose sound and massive tone on the tenor may remind some of John Gilmore and his ability to mix many eras of jazz into one musical approach recalls Mingus and Elllington. All of that is here on “Inflated Tear”, but this album is also a bit mellowed with a laid back 60s beatnik vibe, somewhere along the lines of early Herbie Mann and Eddie Harris.
The album opens with “The Black and Crazy Blues”, a New Orleans dirge with modern elements which is followed by “A Laugh for Rory”, a fun upbeat cool jazz number on the flute(s). Some consider Kirk’s ability to play more than one instrument at a time to be a gimmick, but on “Rory”, and elsewhere on this album, he shows that his ability to harmonize the melody with simultaneous nose flute and concert flute is far more than a gimmick and adds some very interesting unique dimensions to his arrangements. The following tune, “Many Blessings”, contains some explosive tenor work and side one closes with the pretty flute ballad, “Fingers in the Wind”.
Side two opens with the album’s title track. This piece is more like a musical/theatrical re-telling of how a nurse accidentally blinded Kirk for life at the age of two. This one is quite different from the rest of the album and features primitive sounds on three horns at once. Despite the heavy subject matter, this is hardly indulgent and adds to that singularity that is Rahsaan. After this opening, Duke‘s “The Creole Love Call” follows and Kirk’s ability to harmonize on two horns works to good advantage as he uses Ellington’s transparent framework to include sounds of centuries past as well as the future. This one also features another strong, but short ride on the tenor. The album closes out with three bluesy hard bop numbers that show Kirk and his band working with short concise forms, no cliche gratuitous solos, everything compact and to the point with just enough solo to fit the tune. The closer, Lovellevelliloqui", has one of Kirk's best and quirkiest tenor solos on the album.
This is a great album, maybe not as far out as some of Kirk’s records, but possibly that makes this one a good first buy for somebody wanting to check out his music.