The Revolutionary Ensemble
Inner City : 1978
Jenkins, violin; Sirone, bass; Jerome Cooper, drums.
LJ, viola (“Folk Song”), violin.
LJ, violin; George Lewis, trombone; Anthony Davis, piano; Andrew Cyrille, drums.
We wrote recently about The Revolutionary Ensemble, and that post will stay live for a while as we honor the memory of this great American artist. We have been listening to a lot of Jenkins since hearing the news of his passing; it was always poignant stuff, never more so than today.
Leroy Jenkins has rightly been dubbed the father of free jazz violin. But forget about the “free” part a moment, because his true achievement was opening up the possibilities on the instrument for all jazz players. His innovative playing blended the inflections blues and jazz with bracing shards of atonality and rigorous classical structures. In other words, he found new ways to conjure beauty. You can hear this all over his work – but it’s most nakedly apparent in the two tracks from his spellbinding Solo album.
And while Jenkins was a deep thinker who advanced the cause of this adventurous music we all love, his music was also profoundly emotional. The delicate and achingly mournful “Chicago” from the Revolutionary Ensemble’s rare self-titled LP is one long, langorous sigh. A sublime elegy. Pure goosebumps from the first note to the last.
Through his work with the still-neglected Revolutionary Ensemble, Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, various AACM projects, and as a solo artist, Jenkins cut a formidable swath through the jazz world over the past 30 years as a performer and composer. The brief “Through the Ages Jehovah” showcases some of his talents in arranging and bandleading. During this deceptively simple gospel melody, the players each begin to head in their own direction, quietly dispersing without ever losing the thread of the tune.
Like 2/3ds of The Bad Plus, Drew’s first and only time seeing Jenkins live was at the Dewey Redman memorial show last month in New York. It was a solo turn, unadorned and direct in approach, melancholy without melodrama, and deep without apparent effort. It combined a woolly casualness and spontaneity with a strong, rigorous sense of structure. It was beautiful.
Chilly was fortunate to see Jenkins perform several times during various Vision Festivals. There was always a striking contrast between the taciturn and professorial man and the startling and emotional music coming from the violin. Jenkins was never a flashy player and let his radical art speak for itself. The strongest memory remains the Revolutionary Ensemble’s comeback show, where their bracing and challenging music left the crowd largely baffled. It was clearly the best show of the festival but not many others agreed. Afterwards, fans crowded around a number of the evening’s other musicians, heaping praises and chatting them up. Leroy Jenkins stood alone on the sidewalk outside the venue. I thanked him for the terrific music and we shook hands. Jenkins seemed pleased by the compliment but also quietly confident in the value of his music, which like the best of jazz, will endure.
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And be sure to check out:
–Olewnick on the Tomato track. (Also here.)
–This 2004 interview with “Blue” Gene Tyranny, with video.
–DJA’s notice and full complement of links.
–WKCR, with an all-day LJ memorial broadcast, today, Wednesday, 28 Feb.