Rufus Harley - King / Queens (Atlantic, 1970)
King / Queens
LP Atlantic SD-1539 (USA, 1970)
01. Eight Miles High
02. Moon River
03. Love is Blue
Note : Rufus Harley, bagpipes; Richard Tee, piano; Eric Gale, guitar; Charles Rainey, bass; Jimmy Johnson, drums; Montego Joe, conga drum; Nadi Qamar, mamalukembia & Madagascar harp.
There have been arguments regarding whether Rufus Harley meant some of the tracks on Kings & Queens to be humorous. Whether intended that way or not, the average listener reacts to his bagpipe version of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" first with incredulity and then with guffaws. The same is true of the versions of "Love Is Blue" and especially "Windy," a lightweight pop tune that certainly has a unique sound when played on bagpipes fronting a blues band. On repeated listenings, one develops a sense of respect for the amazing skill that makes these cuts as listenable as they are. If they gave Grammys for inventiveness and sheer audacity, Harley would have a closetful. His version of "Moon River" is astonishingly effective despite the fact that the five-note octave of the bagpipe would seem to make this tune impossible for that instrument. If the whole album was made of pop tunes, this would be a novelty album to surpass all others, albeit one that wouldn't get played very often. What makes the album demand repeated play are the other two compositions, which are Harley's own. "Kings" is an extended duet for bagpipe and marimba — not instruments one thinks of combining as a usual thing, but it's probably obvious by now that Harley thinks way outside the box. The two instruments create an instrumental dialogue that is very similar to an Indian raga, each playing various parts of a theme, sometimes relating to each other in ways that don't connect in any formal way but that work. "Queens," the closing track, is another duet for what sounds like Japanese koto and Scottish bagpipes. This piece is more meditative, with long passages in which one instrument develops an idea while the other accents it or plays a countertheme. These two extended tracks remind the listener that, while Rufus Harley may have played pop tunes on the first half of the album, his roots are in jazz — and when he sets his mind to it, he plays jazz that can't be mistaken for anyone else.
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