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The Spirits Up Above by Steve Turre

One of the associations, both musical and personal, most cherished by trombonist Steve Turre was that with the legendary multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "The first time I played with Rahsaan was in the Fall of 66," he told me, during an interview in my forthcoming book The Flute In Jazz. "It was in San Francisco at the Jazz Workshop. Then I played with him many times after that. Whenever he came through the bay area again he'd hire me. He'd call me up if I wasn't working and give me a New Years Eve gig. Then I joined the band regularly for the last two years I guess, from 1975 until he passed in December of 77." During this time, Turre developed a great appreciation for Kirk's artistry. "I never saw him play where he didn't touch his audience," he recalled. "It always came from his heart. He played from his soul. It was always that kind of sincerity of expression." Now, thirty years later, established as the pre-eminent trombonist of his generation, Turre has produced a tribute to his mentor in this fine recording.

Apart from Turre's "One For Kirk" these are all Rahsaan Roland Kirk compositions. It says something about Rahsaan's prowess that the arrangements, such as the opening "One For The Festival," need three horn players to emulate the sound Kirk produced by himself, playing three horns-the tenor, the manzello and the stritch-simultaneously. The soloists are all their own men, however, and do not appear in any sense intimidated. Herring is a strong player whose soprano occasionally hints at the piquancy of Kirk's manzello sound, while reflecting all that has transpired in jazz since Rahsaan's time. Carter's muscular tenor is also distinctive and uncompromising, cutting loose with particular vigor on "Volunteered Slavery." (Playing tenor on a Rahsaan tribute must be as daunting as replacing Joe Montana with the 49ers.) It is Turre, however, who perhaps most fully reflects Rahsaan's influence. "Rahsaan turned me on to the lineage," he writes in the album notes. "He made me realize that as far back as you go will directly influence how far forward you can go." Kirk had his band play every style of jazz from New Orleans through bebop via everything in between, so if we can hear Vic Dickenson, Dickie Wells, Trummy Young and Jack Teagarden in Turre's playing, as well as Kid Ory and J.J. Johnson, this stems from Turre's time with Kirk. But none of it is superficially grafted on, it has all been absorbed and fashioned into the archetypal jazz trombone sound.

This sound is evident throughout the recording, as Turre demonstrates clearly why he continues to top the trombone polls. In addition, his arrangements and his selection of material, capture the spirit of Rahsaan's music as he pays tribute to him. The sextet are right there with him throughout, driven by a rhythm section anchored by another Kirk alumnus, bassist Buster Williams. And Dave Valentin's cameo appearance on the "Serenade To A Cuckoo/Bright Moments" medley, with his powerful reminder of the shouting-humming flute sound that Kirk popularized, adds another dimension to a highly satisfying album.

I am sure that Turre will be happy if people buy his CD, but he will probably be equally gratified if it directs some younger jazz fans to the original recordings of one of American music's great originals-Rahsaan Roland Kirk. You would do well to do both!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Steve Turre
  • CD Title: The Spirits Up Above
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: High Note Records
  • Tracks: 1. Three For The Festival 2. One For Kirk 3. Medley: Serenade To A Cuckoo, Bright Moments 4. Stepping Into Beauty 5. The Spirits Up Above 6. Hand Full Of Five 7. E.D. 8. Dorthaans Walk 9. Volunteered Slavery'
  • Musicians: Steve Turre - trombone; James Carter - tenor saxophone & flute; Vincent Herring - alto & soprano saxophone; Dave Valentin - flute [3]; Mulgrew Miller - piano; Buster Williams - bass; Winard Harper - drums; Andromeda Turre, Akua Dixon, Michael Hill, Whitney Marchell Jackson, Joe Dixon, Steve Turre - vocal [5 & 9]
  • Rating: Four Stars
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