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By Michael Henningsen

NOVEMBER 16, 1998: 

Roland Kirk I Talk With The Spirits (Verve)

Part historian, part explorer, part black power advocate, part freak show--he regularly played between two and four reed instruments at a time (often in counterpoint!), besides percussion, nose flute and vocals--(Rahsaan) Roland Kirk was completely fearless, willing to cross any musical boundary, occasionally falling on his face but more often creating compelling, moving music that could cover and move beyond the history of jazz within a single solo.

In 1964, flute records were all the rage, and at the urging of his wife Edith, Kirk recorded I Talk With the Spirits, one of the most unusual records of his career. Backed by pianist Horace Parlan, bassist Michael Fleming and drummer Walter Perkins, Kirk plays no reeds at all, and by necessity only plays one flute at a time. However, unlike the majority of jazz flute records, which sound hopelessly twee, Kirk's creativity is typically boundless.

The reissue is flawless, with an excellent package replicating the full artwork of the original album plus full credits and a lengthy essay, plus beautifully remastered sound which adds previously unheard depth and spaciousness to the quartet's sound. Playing with a grace and clarity comparable to Herbie Mann ("My Ship"), singing and moaning into the instrument (the medley of "We'll Be Together Again" and Barbra Streisand's "People"), or using the noise of the flute's keys as percussion (most of the album, especially the astonishing "A Quote from Clifford Brown"), Kirk stands the conventions of the jazz flute record on their head.

Rarely simply pretty--although the melody of "Serenade to a Cuckoo" is possibly the loveliest of his career--and at times corrosive, I Talk With the Spirits is quintessential Kirk. As he wrote in the original album's liner notes, "I don't think it sounds at all like the flute album you expect to hear." Æ

Various Artists Shine On Sweet Starlet: Original Soundtrack Recording (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

During the 1997 tour promoting his film The Sore Losers, lo-fi sexploitation filmmaker (his term) John Michael McCarthy often requested female audience volunteers to strip down to their underwear for his camera. The result is Shine On Sweet Starlet, an hour of postmodern stag loops with a garage rock soundtrack. It's more than local pride which makes Luxochamp's "Block Mover" the highlight of these 22 songs: Brad and the kids just sound like they're having the most fun.

Fun is the key here, and it's the bands that sound like they've spent too much time analyzing their Pebbles compilations who sound the most forced. Sillier things like the Royal Pendletons' cover of Slim Harpo's "King Bee" and 68 Comeback's goofy "Dick C. Belle" come off much better, and the Regals' five selections best capture the self-consciously sleazy vibe. It's perhaps best enjoyed in small doses, but Shine On Sweet Starlet is more fun than a night at Mr. Peepers with a fistful of bills. ¡ 1/2

The Virgin-Whore Complex Succumb (Emperor Norton)

The second album by this San Francisco trio builds on last year's Stay Away From My Mother by making the lyrics sharper and odder ("Speakerphone" takes its verses from letters to newspapers by San Francisco's Zodiac Killer), the melodies more memorable ("Casey" and "Papa Wilson," about Beach Boys Brian, Carl and Dennis' abusive dad Murry, are among the catchiest songs of the year) and the arrangements more lush and unusual, combining banjo, ukulele, pump organ, glockenspiel and viola. Neither Deb Fox nor Spats Ransom is a technically accomplished singer, though Ransom turns his shortcomings into virtues and Fox has an appealing sweetness. Lyrics like "Why not just go upstairs and slit the children's throats/Now where'd a thought like that come from?" might be offputting to some, but Papas Fritas or Eels fans will find much to like here. ²

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