Roland Kirk – The Limelight / Verve Albums (4LP box set, 180g pressing)

# Vinyl
# Number of Discs: 4
# Format: FLAC
# DR Analysis: DR 12
# Label: Mosaic | MRLP-3006
# Size: 24-bit/192kHz (6.34GB), 24-bit/96kHz (3.34GB) and 16-bit/44.1kHz (0.99GB)
# Recovery: 5%
# Scan: yes
# Servers: File Factory

The next in the series of Mosaic boxes. 24/192 is available this time!
Like the other Mosaic posts, this is a report from black circles..

From the Mosaic Records website:

Singular, Fluid And Innovative

Born August 7, 1936 in Columbus, Ohio, Roland Kirk grew up to become one of the most all-encompassing and unique virtuosos in jazz.

Born essentially blind (his eyes could distinguish light), he showed an early desire to try to make music from things such as the end of a water hose. His first real instrument, at age 9, was the trumpet, but his doctor felt that it put too much pressure on his eyes, so he switched to saxophone and clarinet. He was a natural musician and a fast learner who was playing professional gigs while still in high school.

He dreamt at age 16 that he was playing three instruments at once. In a local music store, he soon found two rare oddities: a manzello which is a Spanish variant of the soprano sax with a bent, flaired bell and a stritch, which was essentially a straight alto sax with a large bell at the end. He worked out his own false fingerings to be able to play three-part harmony on the three saxophones. At age 23, he made his first album for King Records in Cincinnati. That label was the home of James Brown and other great R & B acts and Kirk’s album quickly became a rare collector’s item. He progressed quickly and became well known in Chicago where he made his second album for Argo in 1960 at the behest of Ramsey Lewis. He ventured to New York in 1961 making an album for Prestige Records with organist Jack McDuff. The war between the pro-Kirk and anti-Kirk factions in the musical and critical communities was taking shape. Genius or gimmick-laden huckster? History fell on the side of genius.

At The Height Of His Powers

In 1964, Mercury announced Limelight, a new subsidiary with incredibly elaborate packaging. Roland moved to the new label and recorded what could be called his first concept record. He left all the saxophones at home and recorded an entire album on a variety of flutes. “I Talk With The Spirits” added vibist Bobby Moses to his quartet with Miss C. J. Albert’s wordless vocal on two tunes. The material was all geared to the flute but ranged from the lyrical to the funky. Roland’s kick-off original, the irresistible “Serenade To A Cuckoo” became a radio hit. The whole album is a coherent and beautiful statement.

To see Kirk live was like having a safe seat at the core of a typhoon and witnessing a force of nature facilely draw upon the entire history of jazz with dazzling energy, humor and imagination. That was glimpsed on 1963’s “Kirk In Copenhagen,” but the intensity that was Kirk and his music was not properly captured until an all-star studio album “Rip, Rig And Panic,” made at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. The rhythm section of Jaki Byard, Richard Davis and Elvin Jones was a dream team for Roland. These were men who could follow him anywhere in a heartbeat and who meshed musically on the highest plane. They were, quite simply, on his level. This studio album packed all the power and energy of Roland Kirk live, moving effortless from New Orleans to swing to bop to free form to musique concrete.

Kirk’s final Limelight album was no less ambitious though it was a clear attempt to cross over into more popular radio formats. Kirk and arranger Garnett Brown add brass and percussion to the mix for “Slightly Latin” which also includes the Coleridge Perkinson choir on three tracks. Two pop tunes are covered, a smokin’ “Walk On By” and the Beatles’ “And I Love Her.” The rest is densely textured originals on which Roland plays a fair amount of baritone sax with the grace and power he brings to any reed instrument.

Before committing to an exclusive contract with Atlantic Records in 1967, he made one album for Creed Taylor at Verve. This would be his third and final album at the Van Gelder studio. “Now Please Don’t Cry, Beautiful Edith” is a celebrated quartet affair with Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Ronnie Boykins on bass and the indefatigable Grady Tate on drums. The program is mostly originals, but with a wide variety of grooves and melodic material. Fittingly, it kicks off with a beautiful Ellingtonian original blues “Blue Rol” which is a rare feature for Roland on clarinet.

Roland’s collaborations with producer Joel Dorn on Atlantic would soon take a more conceptual shape and a variety of settings and themes. These four mid-sixties gems capture Roland Kirk at the height of his powers with his identity fully formed in four wonderful contexts.

This is the first Mosaic set to be pressed at Chad Kassem’s Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kansas. About the pressings coming out of QRP, Michael Fremer wrote on,” all I can say is THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!!!!! The sonics are spectacular and the pressing quality is as good as has ever been pressed in my opinion. The backgrounds are dead, black, silent the way Japanese pressings used to come on JVC ‘Supervinyl!’ and believe me it doesn’t get any better than that, though this may even be richer, darker and blacker.”


Several years ago when this writer was looking for rarities to include in the column Jazz From the Vinyl Junkyard, the chances for the medium to make a huge comeback seemed to be slim at best. Fast forward and it seems that vinyl is the new black, with efforts to market it to a fresh and younger audience. The availability of simple to operate and affordable turntables aids the process. And until just recently, Stereophile magazine had an entire column, The Entry Level, devoted to putting together a great system on a budget.

Further stoking this trend, Blue Note made a huge commitment for their 75th anniversary by launching a vinyl reissue campaign of a hundred titles to be released over the next year and a half. Concord Music Group is soon to follow suit with a vinyl reissue series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Prestige label. Much of this reissued music will be familiar to seasoned collectors and might even get some coverage in the press from a purely musical standpoint. The aim here too is to discuss the performance, as this will be valuable to newcomers looking to decide on the musical value of a given release. But for more seasoned collectors, critical analysis will also include notes on pressings, remastering quality, packaging, etc.

Our maiden voyage will focus on the 4 LP set Roland Kirk: The Limelight/Verve Albums, a recent release by Mosaic Records. Here we have a company that started their reissue business with vinyl boxed sets and even after switching over to the compact disc, has continued to dabble in the vinyl business. Over the past several years they have put an even stronger emphasis on quality in terms of the presentation and pressings. This Kirk set is important for many reasons, not the least being it is the first Mosaic set to be pressed at the critically acclaimed QRP plant in Kansas. More on the benefits of this decision as we delve into the music.

In a nutshell, the original albums featured here include the three albums Kirk recorded for Mercury Record’s Limelight subsidiary, namely I Talk With the Spirits, Rig, Rig & Panic, and Slightly Latin. The concluding set, Now Please Don’t Cry, Beautiful Edith, was produced by Creed Taylor for Verve. Sadly to say, these albums are all but impossible to find on CD these days. The boxed set compiling all of Kirk’s Mercury sides is out-of-print as well. The only title obtainable with a little effort is the Verve album, which can be found on a Japanese reissue. This information alone makes this boxed set a no-brainer purchase.

Making our way to the music, I Talk With the Spirits is a September 1964 session produced by Bobby Scott that would feature Kirk solely with his collection of various flutes. Interestingly enough, key sidemen here include pianist Horace Parlan and drummer Walter Perkins, both of whom provided vital support on Booker Ervin’s 1963 set for Prestige, Exultation. Although a concept is at play here, the music is anything but cold and calculating. In fact, the best known piece of the date, “Serenade to a Cuckoo,” is a wonderful showcase for Kirk’s talents, first on regular flute and then African flute. The cuckoo clock sound effect that opens the tune is also pure Kirk in humor and spirit.

As he would do throughout his later career, Kirk had a way of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He does this by taking marginal pop tunes and making them into viable musical vehicles. He does that here with “People,” the tune forever associated with Barbara Streisand. His flute and guttural voicings take it far and away from its saccharine foundation. Other highlights include the ballad masterpiece “My Ship” and the romping blues original, “A Quote from Clifford Brown.” On the latter piece, we get a choice duet as Walter Perkins plays his bent cymbal with a mallet while Kirk slap tongues and conjures up all sorts of his own percussive sounds.

This session was recorded at Nola Penthouse Studios, a location usually associated with a very dry and lifeless sort of sound. Happily, this is not the case here, as we get a very lively rendering of all of Kirk’s horns and vocalizations. There is a clear and crisp sound to the other instruments as well. This is especially true of the piano. All in all, this latest version might be the definitive word on an iconic Kirk masterpiece.

Switching over to the Van Gelder Studios for Rip, Rig & Panic, this January 1965 session is notable for the company Kirk kept. Jaki Byard and Richard Davis had already left a lasting impression working with Booker Ervin on his legendary “Book” records for Prestige. Add in Elvin Jones and you have a formidable rhythm section. Kirk rises to the occasion, sticking mainly to tenor saxophone, although the other horns in his arsenal are sagaciously used to add color.

Byard is in excellent form, especially when it comes to the stride overtones he gives to “From Bechet, Fats, and Byas.” More avant-garde leanings are in the mix this time too. Sound effects and collective improvisation mark “Slippery, Hippery, Flippery,” an off kilter number that eventually settles into a brisk stomping tempo. Much the same can be said of the title number, a series of wild escapades that concludes with more electronic effects and Kirk’s voice.

Of the four albums, this might be the least underwhelming when it comes to sound quality. Van Gelder has rendered things in a rather flat plane and the use of the prerecorded electronic effects further adds to the problem. Elvin usually sounds great at Rudy’s, but here he is pushed too far back into the mix. Even the piano manages to come off as one dimensional. All of this does little to distract from the impact of some of Kirk’s most important music. It is just atypical of Van Gelder’s work at the time.

Kirk would wrap up his tenure with Mercury with the November 1965 sessions at Capitol Studios that comprised the album Slightly Latin. Purists have often balked at this album as nothing more than a commercial gimmick. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the various cuts offer a great sampler of Kirk’s many talents. Look out for some blustery baritone saxophone on “Juarez.” “Shakey Money” finds Kirk on a bagpipe chanter and the atmospheric incantation of “Safari” is achieved by adding a studio audience as axuillary percussionists. It all manifests itself in a fine offering and just proves that Kirk refused to repeat himself from album to album.

In the interim between leaving Mercury and signing up with Atlantic Records, Kirk did a one shot offering for Verve. Faring much better this time at Van Gelder’s, 1967’s Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith is one of his most sublime statements and a criminally underrated masterpiece of the era. Accompanied by pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, bassist Ronnie Boykins, and drummer Grady Tate, Kirk settles on an approach that puts experimentation on the back burner and direct emotional expression at the forefront.

The opening “Blue Rol” is as masterful a statement by Kirk as he ever put to tape. Along with his tandem horns on the melody line, he throws in some remarkable displays of circular breathing, holding a note in the middle section for what seems like forever. He then caps it off with another extended cadenza, even as the rest of the band drops out. “Why Don’t They Know” is a perky bossa that hints at Kirk’s feeling of being somewhat under the radar of the casual jazz fan. His “conversation” with a young lady at the end of the track is simply a hoot. In fact, this pressing revealed some of the speech that this reviewer had simply not heard before.

It is a sense of playfulness that also imbues “Fall Out,” Kirk’s horns sputtering along with a positive message. Smith picks up on the vibe and has never sounded better than he does on these tracks. Kirk’s signature siren whistle calls things to a close on a jubilant note. By contrast, the title track is all tenderness and serenity offered in tribute to Roland’s wife Edith. This brief masterwork ends with vibrant flute work on the Billy Taylor ditty “It’s a Grand Night for Swinging.” Van Gelder adds some echo on the flute near the end as Boykins takes over for a solo. It’s a perfectly programed recital that artfully illuminates Kirk’s most valuable assets.

Having an in depth knowledge of this music and having owned it on various formats over the years, this reviewer can go on record as saying this set will be the last word in sound quality when it comes to these albums. The pressings were flat and extremely quiet with an analog warmth that was nonetheless still quite detailed and lifelike. The enclosed booklet features some great photos by the likes of Chuck Stewart and Francis Wolff, along with a brief essay by Todd Barkan and the liner notes reprinted for each album. Highly recommended without hesitation, you’ll want to act quickly as only 3500 copies of this outstanding set are being offered. – C. Andrew Hovan,

Track Listing:

Side One
01 – Serenade To A Cuckoo
02 – We’ll Be Together Again
03 – A Quote From Clifford Brown
04 – Trees
05 – Fugue’n And Alludin’

Side Two
06 – The Business Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues
07 – I Talk With The Spirits
08 – Ruined Castles
09 – Django
10 – My Ship

Side Three
11 – No Tonic Pres
12 – Once In A While
13 – From Bechet, Byas And Fats
14 – Mystical Dream

Side Four
15 – Rip, Rig And Panic
16 – Black Diamond
17 – Slippery, Hippery, Flippery

Side Five
18 – Walk On By
19 – Raouf
20 – It’s All In The Game
21 – Juarez
22 – Shakey Monkey

Side Six
23 – Nothing But The Truth
24 – Safari
25 – And I Love Her
26 – Ebrauqs

Side Seven
27 – Blue Rol
28 – Alfie
29 – Why Don’t They Know
30 – Silverization

Side Eight
31 – Fall Out
32 – Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith
33 – Stompin’ Grounds
34 – It’s A Grand Night For Swinging


Sides 1 & 2: I Talk With The Spirits.
Sides 3 & 4: Rip, Rig And Panic
Sides 5 & 6: Slightly Latin
Sides 7 & 8: Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith.

Numbered limited edition box set of 3500
Mastered by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound and pressed at Quality Record Pressings.

Detailed info for the box set can be found here and here.


Roland Kirk – flute, alto flute, African wooden flute, clarinet, tenor sax, baritone sax, piccolo, bagpipes, chanter, manzello, stritch, castenets, siren
Bobby Moses – vibes
Eddie Mathias – bass
Elvin Jones – drums
Garnett Brown – trombone
Grady Tate – drums
Horace Parlan – piano, celeste, vibes
Jaki Byard – piano
Lonnie Liston Smith – piano
Manuel Ramos – percussion, vocal choir
Martin Banks – fluegelhorn
Michael Fleming – bass
Miss C. J. Albert – vocal
Montego Joe – congas
Richard Davis – bass
Ronnie Boykins – bass
Sonny Brown – drums, Nagoya harp
Virgil Jones – trumpet
Walter Perkins – drums

Ripping Info:

All vinyl is cleaned on a VPI 16.5

Technics SL1200-MK5 (modified)
– Rega RB300 arm with RB700 wiring
– Michell Tecnoweight
– SoundSupports armboard
– Trans-Fi Audio ResoMat
Audio Technica AT33PTG/II
AVID Pellar preamp
RME Hammerfall 9632 ADC

Processing: Sound Forge 10, ClickRepair (manual mode only), iZotope RX2

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9 thoughts on “Roland Kirk – The Limelight / Verve Albums (4LP box set, 180g pressing)

  1. I think i did thank you for the sun ship black box but anyway… Your work on the mosaic collection is incredible… Thank you again so much.

  2. Hey NightOwl it’s bezdaks again but with my real nickname -.-‘
    I was wondering if you heard about the ten extremly rare LPs by Mosaic for the last sessions at Village Vanguard of Bill Evans…

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