Archive for March 2011

Tripping with the journey agent

March 31, 2011

If there is a quintessential Midnight Tracker record, this might be it.

It was heard only after 10 p.m., when our local FM radio station dropped its Top 40 playlist and headed off into free-form album cuts. To have heard a record by jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk in central Wisconsin in 1976 is all the more remarkable.

I’m not much of a jazz fan, but this is a record I have had forever, or at least since hearing it late at night in 1976.

The cut they played back then, the noirish “Theme For The Eulipions,” oozes cool over its 9-plus minutes.

Betty H. Neale sets the tone with a spoken-word intro that lasts almost 2 minutes. It casts Kirk as a mysterious busker.

“This is the first time, though, that I’ve seen him at an airport. I know he moves along the piers. Calls himself a ‘Journey Agent,’ a ‘Eulipion.’ Says his friends, the poets, the artists, the musicians are journey agents too.”

All that before you ever hear Kirk’s moody tenor sax. Which gives way to an extended piano/bass/drums jam. Which gives way to a Kirk solo. Which gives way to Maeretha Stewart’s lush vocals. Then it all circles back to Neale’s spoken-word outro.

On the liner notes, Kirk explains how it came to be:

“While I was sitting in an airport on my way to one of my ‘Earthlike’ gigs, I was in a state of meditation with my harmonica and, as usual, was just checking a lot of people out who were around us and this beautiful melody from Eulipia evolved.”

It’s a memorable piece — mind-blowing when you’re 19, as I was at the time — yet the only original among the album’s seven cuts. The rest are covers, a couple of jazz standards, a couple of show tunes and Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You.” The musicians are a who’s who of black jazz greats. Of course, I didn’t know this when I was 19.

My favorite cut follows “Theme For The Eulipions” and couldn’t be more different. It’s a rollicking cover of “Sweet Georgia Brown” with Hank Jones on piano and Milt Hinton on bass, done in a roadhouse style familiar to anyone who knows how the Harlem Globetrotters use the song as their theme.

Tonight on the Midnight Tracker, we have both of those cuts, plus a lovely cover of “I’ll Be Seeing You” with some sweet Hammond B-3 work by Trudy Pitts.

“Theme For The Eulipions,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “I’ll Be Seeing You,” Rahsaan Roland Kirk, from “The Return of the 5000 Lb. Man,” 1976. This is Side 1. It runs 19:52.

If there ever was a side to emerge from the haze of time, this is it.