(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People

Don't fuck with Tania.


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 then 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.

Category Revolutionary Ensemble

9 Responses to (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People

  1. Ah, Patty Hearst. When you’re 14 in the early ’70s, there’s few things as stunning as a rich chick with a gun and a beret.

    Speaking of the 73-90 meme…where are all of Cecil Taylor’s unbelievable late ’70s early ’80s ensemble recordings? His band with Sirone, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Ramsey Ameen, Raphe Malik, Jimmy Lyons is undoubtedly one of the great ensembles in all of the music. I was surprised when I visited Behearer to not see it better represented.


  2. Beautiful record. Cooper, imho, was a really interesting and undersung composer for while, with regard to both his pieces for the RE and on his own discs (like ‘Outer and Interactions’), not to mention his astonshing solo concerts and recordings.

  3. Well, as long as we’re referencing old punk rock songs, here’s a relevant bit from the Avengers:

    It’s the American in me says it’s and honor to die
    In a war that’s just a politician’s lie
    It’s the American in me that makes me watch TV
    See how they burned the SLA
    They said, Ask not what you can do for your country
    What’s your country been doin’ to you

    …bearing in mind that the SLA were apparently not very nice people, but at least they had style about it.

    Saw Jenkins play with Cecil Taylor once.

  4. sorry, peter, her name was not patty in that photo. i think it was Sylvia ? but your paragraph 2 is right on. Cecil and his people [not beany] ruined me for live music. who am i gonna see? it will all be pale after what happened in ny in the 80s. Raphe Malik. another great trumpeter. hmmmmm.
    thanks D-O , again. good stuff. it sure woulda been nice to see these guys play with johnny and the

  5. That would be Tania in the photo.

  6. Man, I’m getting old. Tania, aka the namesake of Che Guevara’s girlfriend. ….


  7. this is extraordinary stuff.

    can’t think of anything else to say really…

  8. Ponderous Planet from this album was Gary Giddins choice for the most representative track of 1975 in his “road map” for post WWII jazz.

  9. Thanks for noting that, Stan. A link to the whole Giddins list is on the sidebar, down a ways.