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The Revolution Continues

The Revolutionary Ensemble (violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone and drummer/keyboardist Jerome Cooper) was one of the leading “out” groups of the 1970s, and its reappearance has proved to be a highlight of 2004. In late May the trio took the stage for the first time in some 27 years at the Vision Festival, in front of a crowd that truly appreciated the event’s significance. On the night before Halloween, at the more upscale Joe’s Pub, an equally enthusiastic house rose to its feet after Jenkins and company played music from their new album And Now… (Pi).

This band can move from the densest free improv to a uniquely craggy variety of chamber jazz in the course of a single composition. Their sound is strings-based, obviously, with Sirone making extensive use of the bow, either to enunciate a soaring melody or produce a sonic barrage by sawing rapidly back and forth. (If Sirone had to rehair his bow after every gig, it wouldn’t be surprising.) Jenkins was just as physically animated, his amplified tone often hoarse and severe–although one of three short encores had him playing unaccompanied, revealing a world of timbral variety, not to mention technical mastery.

Cooper wrote the epic suite “911-544,” named in memory of the Twin Towers disaster, which he witnessed from the roof of his building. There was one remarkable moment when all three band members were bowing their instruments (with Cooper it was his cymbals). Cooper also set the first unambiguous tempo of the night with a sequenced keyboard bass line, and coaxed the music through chameleonic shifts in texture and mood with his splashy, dissonant chords–often while clanging his hi-hat. His hypnotic sounding of the chiramia (a small double-reed instrument) added a measure of solemnity.

Enormous sound quality improvement separates And Now from older albums like The Psyche, recently reissued on CD for the first time by Mutable. But conceptually, the group has remained consistent. All three members write: the Joe’s Pub set began with Sirone’s angular “Berlin Erfahrung” and Jenkins’ slow legato piece “Rumi Tales.” Following Cooper’s suite, Jenkins’ “Light,” with its brief, clarion theme, yielded some of the gig’s most focused interplay. Sirone’s “Ism Schism,” a whimsical, quasi-classical utterance, closed the set and had the crowd demanding more. Hopefully the warm response will propel the Revolutionary Ensemble back onto the stage, and into the studio, again in the near future.

Originally Published