Triple Threat

Roland Kirk

King, 1957

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In his heyday, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was unfairly tagged with the title “clown prince of jazz,” simply because he was able to play three instruments at one time, interspersed with assorted squeaks and noises. The problem was that there was more to Kirk’s music than the novelty of playing multiple instruments, and he was more than just a capable musician and songwriter.

But, in the beginning of his career, he was simply Roland Kirk—still playing multiple instruments, still writing his own music. The problem was he hadn’t become the musical innovator he’d eventually be known as—and his debut effort, Triple Threat—later re-released on Bethlehem Records as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Third Dimension – doesn’t have any of the excitement or innovation one would have expected from Kirk, either as a songwriter or as a musician.

Kirk’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist are present throughout the course of the seven tracks on this disc, and unless you knew of his talents or read the liner notes, you might not have known that all the wind instruments on this disc were played by Kirk. Interestingly enough, Kirk is wise enough to know when to yield the spotlight to pianist James Madison, which adds some color to the selections.

As for the choices, the standard covers tend to be a little bland. Whether it’s the take on Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather,” Hoagy Carmichael & Ned Washington’s “The Nearness Of You” or Ralph Rainger & Leo Robin’s “Easy Living,” Kirk and his backing band just don’t seem completely comfortable with the material, and the overall delivery is a bit stiff and lacking in emotion.

When Kirk is allowed to unleash his own compositions, the intensity improves a bit—but he still hadn’t quite grown into his role in the world of jazz just yet, so the finished product still sounds a bit uncertain. “Roland’s Theme” is a nice introduction to just who Kirk was, and the multiple wind instruments making up the main chorus of the song show off Kirk’s talents quite well. Other tracks like “Slow Groove” and “Triple Threat” don’t have the same punch to them, though.

Triple Threat can be seen as a tentative first step for Kirk into the world of jazz—which itself was in a period of flux, as artists like Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane were all working on breaking down the walls of the genre and creating unique structures. If anything, Kirk would later benefit from those efforts, allowing him to veer off into his own creative direction. On this effort, though, he does seem to meander a bit aimlessly, and while the finished product is by no means bad, it leaves the question of just what it could have been.

Rating: C

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