Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s live club gigs were usually engaging, freewheeling affairs, full of good humor and a fantastically wide range of music. The double album Bright Moments is a near-definitive document of the Kirk live experience, and his greatest album of the ‘70s. The extroverted Kirk was in his element in front of an audience, always chatting, explaining his concepts, and recounting bits of jazz history. Even if some of his long, jive-talking intros can sound a little dated today, it’s clear in the outcome of the music that Kirk fed voraciously off the energy of the room. Most of the tracks are long (seven minutes or more), demonstrating Kirk’s wealth of soloing ideas in a variety of styles (and, naturally, on a variety of instruments). “Pedal Up” is a jaw-dropping demonstration of Kirk’s never-duplicated three-horns-at-once technique, including plenty of unaccompanied passages that simply sound impossible.
There’s more quintessential Kirk weirdness on “Fly Town Nose Blues,” which heavily features an instrument called the nose flute, and the title track has a healthy dose of Kirk singing through his (traditional) flute. His repertoire is typically eclectic: Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss”; a groovy Bacharach pop tune in “You’ll Never Get to Heaven”; a lovely version of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”; and a stomping, exultant New Orleans-style original, “Dem Red Beans and Rice.” Perhaps the best, however, is an impassioned rendition of the ballad standard “If I Loved You,” where Kirk’s viscerally raw, honking tone hints in a roundabout way at the avant-garde without ever losing its melodic foundation. Bright Moments empties all the major items out of Kirk’s bag of tricks, providing a neat microcosm of his talents and displaying a consummate and knowledgeable showman. In short, it’s nothing less than a tour de force. Steve Huey/AMG