The Jazz on Film season at Home, timed to coincide with Manchester Jazz Festival, this year covered Basil Kirchin, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Sun Ra. All three artists were united by their cosmic philosophies and planetary egos. But it would be too easy to claim that the unspoken subtext of this season was ‘mavericks’, or ‘eccentrics’. Those words are labels given by the frightened to put the super creative on a reservation. They are the slurs of the mediocre. They are words that dismiss, at the same time as they accept.

The work of all three artists was – and in some cases still is – genuinely at the edge of formalism. This means that some misunderstandings should be forgiven. Something that sounds to the newcomer like a ramshackle mess is actually the product of great discipline, but it takes some time to see that, to understand how each artist has a language of his own. Immersion is both required and difficult.

Indeed, it took some time for the musicians in the bands to take to the musical languages being developed. In the Sun Ra film, A Joyful Noise, John Gilmore explains how it took him six months to click into the intervals in the piece ‘Saturn’. Trombonist Steve Turre said similar things about playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He needed to practice the same circular breathing before he fully became part of the organic unit.

All three artists were genuinely ground-breaking. Kirchin recorded Worlds Within Worlds for Island before dropping off the scene and retreating into Hull. Kirchin’s Quantum is partly a philosophy about the universe through quantum physics, and partly the first ambient music. Interestingly, Brian Eno name-checks him later. They were Island label-mates, during Eno’s Roxy Music days. While Eno soaked up the glory of ambient, Kirchin lived a financially fugitive existence.

All these artists emerge out of the other side of World War Two. They don’t just appear, in full cosmic regalia, in the 1970s. There is a long incubation period, making film soundtracks, touring with trad bands or cutting doo-wop records. The link between Kirchin and jazz of the more traditional kind was his father’s big band, and there are fascinating sections about how the Suez crisis effectively ended the resource heavy era of the touring swing band.

But the distance travelled between the end of the war and this music, only a little over 20 years, is quite astonishing. None of them were hanging around waiting for the world to change for them. Roland Kirk took the jazz traditions and turned them into what he called ‘black classical music’. One great sequence of the film explains how Kirk attempted to fuse Dvorak with Coltrane. Kirk’s albums Natural Black Inventions and The Inflated Tear really get to the roots of black music, but they also show it to be utterly hybrid at the same time.

Sun Ra’s Egyptian obsessions and cosmological perspective, while possibly the best known of the three, seems gimmicky, but the surface leads to the fecund perspectives of Afrofuturism. Rahsaan Roland Kirk could play several brass instruments at once and was accused of showmanship over seriousness. But the sound of him overblowing and talking through the process, used to great effect on the track ‘The Inflated Tear’, illustrates how his techniques created a completely unique music. Kirk was also political in a direct, unpretentious and active way, but with a kindness, humour and humility it seems impossible to dislike.

What is great about all three films is that they are thematically joined. They all serve as primers for the newcomer and feasts for the initiated and obsessive alike. Again, we have been treated to a well-curated banquet by Home here. I hope they never run out of material and that the Jazz on Film season remains a yearly fixture.

Steve Hanson