When violinist and composer Leroy Jenkins died in early 2007, it effectively spelled the end of the Revolutionary Ensemble, one of the most interesting and innovative trios of the 1970s. Consisting of the prolific Jenkins, Jerome Cooper on percussion and Sirone in the bass chair. The trio’s flexible blending of jazz and classical music informed their albums between 1972 and 1977. After a 27-year hiatus, the group reformed for the 2004 Vision festival, which precipitated new recordings and reissue projects. Now, Mutable Music issues the influential aggregate’s final concert, taped in Warsaw on May 25, 2005, a fitting epitaph for this trailblazing trio.
The playing is first-rate. We are presented with three compositions, one by each member of the band. It is fascinating to hear the rawly energetic ensemble take on Sirone’s “Configurations,” its modal vamp subsumed by visceral collective improvisation. In contrast, we are treated to a sensually inward reading of Cooper’s “Le-Si-Jer,” a spacious account sporting beautiful contributions courtesy of Cooper’s chiramia, a wind instrument from Mexico. Jenkins is represented by the reflective “Usami,” a piece that Myra Melford’s ensemble performed to stunning effect at the 2007 Vision festival during a tribute to Jenkins. Here, the piece gains in power as it unfolds, building to a powerful climax that finds Jenkins and Sirone locked in fiercely tremoloed dialogue.
Group improvisation has always defined the Revolutionary Ensemble aesthetic, and the present performance is no exception. The two final tracks, both lengthy improvisations, are full of dynamic contrast and timbral diversity. Grooves are established only to fade seamlessly into the multifarious yet transparent group sound, tiny bursts of electronics lending a touch of modernity to the proceedings.
Beyond the group work, there are sterling contributions from each musician throughout the lengthy set. Jenkins opens “Le-Si-Jer” with one of his most moving solos, wispy clouds of harmonics floating over a steely breeze of bow on string. Motives emerge only to disappear again into the mist, Cooper’s keyboards darkening the texture and filling out the harmonies. Sirone’s solo on “Configuration,” which gets the disc underway, bespeaks wisdom and energy in equal measure, controlled but always just on the point of spilling over into Dionysian abandon. Cooper’s instrumental approach is built on short bursts of sound, sometimes closer together and at other times replete with silence; no matter which instrument he’s playing, he complements whatever’s going on around him, as can be heard on his magisterial accompaniment to “Usami.”
There are a few slight problems with the recording; Sirone’s bass occasionally distorts and the overall sound is surprisingly constricted for a stereo recording. But the atmosphere seems to bloom as the disc progresses, and frankly, these shortcomings are minimal when compared to the rest this poignant and historically valuable performance.
By Marc Medwin