Rahsaan’s life of sound

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 09:56 AM

“Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case of the Three Sided Dream”
(By Adam Kahan; screening at 8 p.m. April 5 in the Carolina Theatre, Cinema 3)

“Sound was his life,” says poet Betty Neals, one of the people interviewed in director Adam Kahan’s documentary about reed player Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Kirk’s playing of multiple instruments, often at the same time, was sometimes derided, even by listeners who appreciated jazz, as sheer gimmickry. Kahan’s documentary reminds listeners of just how rooted Kirk was in the traditions of African-American music.
Kirk championed what he called “black classical music,” gospel, blues, and other forms of music. He started the Jazz and People’s Movement to advocate for more TV air time for jazz. He enlisted musicians to stage civil disobedience sessions: In this film, we learn how a group of musicians stood up, playing whistles, disrupting the taping of Dick Cavett’s talk show.
Kahan uses animation, home movies from the Kirk family archives, and Kirk’s voice to create an experience that mirrors the saxophonist’s singular approach to music. The footage of Kirk and musicians performing is fabulous: We see him on a BBC show in 1964, and on the PBS “Soul!” series in 1970. The footage from “The Ed Sullivan Show” from 1970 (in a band that included Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp and Roy Haynes) is absolutely priceless.
Kirk talks about how the sounds he heard in dreams led to his use of multiple instruments, the problems of being blind and the frustrations of being a musician in the business world. In 1975, he had a stroke that paralyzed him. Many of his musicians thought Kirk would never play again, but he learned to play with one hand, modifying his instruments to make the sounds he wanted. He continued performing until his death in 1977, living out his life of sound.

--Cliff Bellamy, The Herald-Sun