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Revolutionary Ensemble: The Psyche

The Revolutionary Ensemble formed in 1971 in New York City. Comprised of violinist Leroy Jenkins (then recently arrived from Chicago), bassist Sirone and drummer/pianist Jerome Cooper, the band was notable for being virtually the only horn-free, string dominated free-jazz group of its time. The Revolutionary Ensemble integrated a concern with space and variable texture pioneered by bands coming out of the Chicago-based AACM in the ’60s and ’70s, with the high-energy grittiness that characterized-then as now-the New York free jazz aesthetic.

Psyche is a reissue of an LP released in 1975 on the band’s own short-lived RE label. In recent years Jenkins became largely involved with composition, so one tends to forget what an extraordinary improviser he is. Most impressive is the range of melodic expression and technique he shows during an unaccompanied solo on the album-opening “Invasion.” Neither Sirone nor Cooper has been given his due. Few bassists have embodied such a combination of chops and soul as Sirone. Here, his time is sure, his sound large, his imagination vast. As for Cooper: there’s an extended passage on “Invasion” where he swings as hard as I’ve ever heard a free-jazz drummer swing. The CD’s best track might be the album’s closer, “Collegno.” The cut features the three musicians at their hyper-intuitive, interactive best. Not just a history lesson, Psyche is vital, essential stuff.

A little less vital-if perhaps just as essential-is And Now…, a Revolutionary Ensemble reunion album recorded in 2004. After three decades, the edge has dulled a bit, but the band still exhibits an affecting sensitivity. They improvise with a keen ear to form and structure, timbre and dynamics. Undulating, nontonal, free-time melodies like Jenkins’ “Rumi Tales” and “Light” serve the group best. They morph seamlessly into lengthy, imaginatively conceived improvs, wherein the band’s gift for spontaneous composition is given free rein. The shock of the new has given way to the wisdom of experience. With both albums, the passage of time has lent a patina that only enhances their beauty.

Originally Published