Roland Kirk was one of the most enigmatic performers of the 60s jazz scene. A blind saxophonist with bizarre dress sense, he very much played the goofball on stage, often handling several instruments at once (including a little flute stuck up his nose) and entertaining his audience with oddball banter. But he took himself and his work seriously, scoffing at being labeled a jazz musician and preferring the term black classical music.
The first half of this album is made up of upbeat R&B inflected tracks and a couple of cheesy (but fun) covers. The title track, with its deep grooves and soulful call-and-response chanting, is especially good. The second half, a live performance from the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival, is where things get serious. It spotlights Kirk’s unique habit of simultaneously playing 2 or 3 wind instruments, all while making bizarre mouth noises. The John Coltrane tribute medley is an 8-minute chronological encapsulation of Coltrane’s various styles, starting off melodic and bluesy and ending with wild free-form explorations. It’s heartfelt and intense, and a testament to Kirk’s amazing saxophone skills.