T.J. Kirk | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

T.J. Kirk 

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In describing the terrific debut album from this most inventive Berkeley-based quartet, you don't know whether to start with its oddball name (there is no T.J. Kirk), its strange lineup--three guitars and drums--or its even wackier premise. Actually, it all runs together. The name of the band comes from the repertoire: T.J. Kirk's self-titled debut comprises compositions by protobopper Thelonious Monk, funk king James Brown, and the visionary saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The mere assemblage of this multigenerational, genre-leaping repertoire would have raised a few eyebrows on its own; T.J. Kirk goes it all one better by mixing 'n' matching within each song. The result is not only the most bizarre medley of the year, a track that pairs Brown's "I Got to Move" with Monk's "In Walked Bud," but also some wholly inspired remakes of jazz standards. If you can't get close to the heavy-metal version of Monk's famous "Epistrophy," try Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery": it gets a reggae backbeat, with the melody itself transformed by bent notes and electronics into something that belongs in Indian raga music. Meanwhile, Brown's spirit hovers over the whole project, not least because of the funk effects employed by the three guitarists. T.J. Kirk create a much fuller sound than you might expect from this combination of instruments, thanks largely to the presence of Charlie Hunter (who wowed 'em a couple weeks back when he hit town with his own trio); Hunter plays bass lines on the bottom strings of his custom eight-string guitar and consequently gives the band the thundering bottom they need to justify their invocation of the godfather of soul. (The name T.J. Kirk does more than blurt out the band's source material. It was also meant to pay at least passing homage to the captain of Star Trek's first U.S.S. Enterprise, James T. Kirk; when Paramount threatened to sue over copyright infringement, the band settled for switching the initials.) If T.J. Kirk's gimmickry didn't work so well, it would be just gimmickry. It's not. Thursday, 9 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln; 549-7700.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jay Blakesberg.

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