TRIO FOR TRIO
The Revolutionary Ensemble
The People’s Republic
Horizon : 1975
Leroy Jenkins, violin; Sirone, bass, trombone; Jerome Cooper, drums, percussion, bugle, piano.
UPDATE 26 Feb 07: We are deeply saddened to learn of Leroy Jenkins’ recent death. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. See here for more.
The Revolutionary Ensemble was radical and chic. The series of blazing albums they recorded during the Seventies may not have incited mass upheaval, but they certainly ignited the consciousness of those lucky enough to hear them. Their incendiary music remains undimmed by time, but it’s sadly fallen into obscurity. Even during the recent 73/90 groundswell, the Revolutionary Ensemble copped surprisingly few mentions.
Interestingly, the trio got much respect back in its day. The estimable old Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide edited by John Swenson rightly dubs them “the most exciting new music band of the 1970s.” Their albums garnered one four-star and three five-star reviews. One of these indispensable recordings was The People’s Republic. It was their first studio album and their last. Here’s Gary Giddins on the album:
The Revolutionary Ensemble often replaced a staunch beat with a mere pulse, suggesting a fusion between classical and jazz practices. But the reflexive interplay between Leroy Jenkins’s spry violin, Sirone’s redwood-heavy bass (and expert arco technique), and Jerome Cooper’s fastidious, if often whimsical percussion was largely consonant and accessible.
These two tracks offer singular pleasures, and an impressive variety of textures and colors for a trio. “New York” begins with a remarkable conversation between Jenkins and Sirone, arco. Like the city from which it takes its name, the tune marks the spot where Old World meets New. Jenkins’ aching melody seemingly reaches back across continents and time, while Sirone’s resonant bottom speaks for the here and now. Halfway in, Cooper’s press roll, followed by some horn embellishments, really sets the group rumbling, before the theme is delployed again for an easy landing.
“Trio for Trio” shifts the instrumentation around, with Sirone moving to trombone, Cooper to piano, and Jenkins sticking with the strings, for some chamber music, AACM-style. The pulse Giddins mentions is in full effect here, as each player picks his way through independently, while remaining poised around a shifting sonic center. At three mintues in, Cooper makes the swing apparent, and it’s grabbed up by Jenkins for a stretch, after which point the center stops holding, and the three gentlemen begin to find their own directions home.
The album also contains “Chinese Rock,” apparently unrelated to the great Heartbreakers song of the same title that surfaced out of New York’s Lower East Side a little later. (Nor is “New York” related to the Sex Pistols’ ditty.) By 1977, the Revolutionary Ensemble had called it quits after an impressive six-year, six-album run. But then…
They reunited at the 2004 Vision Fest with a stunning performance. Leroy Jenkins sawed at his violin until it threw off microtonal sparks, a chorale made up of the squeaky hinges of a hundred rusty doors. The bass and drums hit loping grooves and thenÂ let them evaporate. Cooper littered the stage with piano notes that were alternately lovely and atonal. It was all very deliberate, but more unhinged than strictly compositional. And challenging enough to drive a good number of folks from the room clutching their ears. The trio was just the way we like our radicals and musical revolutionaires – unbowed, unapologetic, and ready to throw down on their own terms.
Their reunion album And Now… (Pi) is wonderful. We recommend it highly, along with The Psyche, a fiery album from their mid-70s heyday reissued by Mutable Music (there’s a sound sample at the site), and Vietnam on ESP. Here’s hoping there’s more music to come – old and new.
PS. Sirone’s discography is chockablock with heavy, heavy business.