LEROY JENKINS (violin), SIRONE (bass), JEROME COOPER (drums, piano)
Revolutionary Ensemble / The Psyche liner notes
In 1970 the idea of revolution
was everywhere - the raging war in VietNam, the desperate antiwar protests that
erupted, the ongoing civil rights revolution, and the jazz revolution. In New
York City, the center of the jazz world, the free jazz scene - "outside"
jazz, underground jazz, the avant garde - was highly active. Inflamed by a decade
of innovations by the likes of Coleman, Taylor, Coltrane, Ayler, rugged individualists
roamed the lofts and small clubs, seeking catharsis in playing fast, exhaustive
energy music. One night at a popular club drummer-bandleader Sunny Murray introduced
his versatile bassist, Sirone, to Leroy Jenkins, who was becoming known as a
new violinist in town; almost immediately the two discussed playing together.
They soon formed a trio with, briefly, drummer Frank Clayton; later in 1970
another newcomer to New York, drummer Jerome Cooper, joined the two string players
to complete the Revolutionary Ensemble.
This group introduced New York to decided musical advances, many pioneered by Chicago's A.A.C.M. musicians. Ex-Chicagoan Jenkins, who played violin, of all unhyeard-of modern jazz instruments, had formed his concept from classical, swing, blues, and modern elements and had been one of the radicals who discovered new concepts of sound, space, and musical relationships in the late 1960s. Cooper had been a somewhat later Chicago explorer, while Sirone's freedom of motion had grown out of work with the most visionary New Yorkers. Extensive rehearsal led this cooperative trio to a shared, free sense of dynamics, momentum, and form, and a wholly unique sound: their instrumental recombinations yielded a surprising variety of textures and colors. Most of all, these highly sophisticated personalities played together to create an ensemble music even larger than the sum of its parts.
The Revolutionary Ensemble's seven years together were surely fruitful, with many New York City appearances and European tours, too. Audiences responded warmly; among other gigs, they played the Village Vanguard and several dates at the Tin Palace - once, despite a historic snowstorm, that club was packed to hear the Ensemble. Articles and reviews were mainly encouraging, but recordings were a problem: Few companies documented the new music, and too many LPs were badly recorded or pressed. To assure quality control the Revolutionary Ensemble formed RE Records, in 1975, to produce the third of their six albums. The Psyche proved to be the RE label's only album. It was little heard in America, for it was released just in time for a European tour and the artists took the cartons of LPs with them. They sold out the first pressing to European dealers; somehow, the busy trio never had time to order a second pressing.
If you doubt the expressive capacity of stringed instruments, The Psyche should change your mind: Jenkins and Sirone have many ways of bowing and plucking, along with dramatic passages high and low on their instruments. Careful listening and sensitive responses sustain this music; accompaniments to solos grow into intense interplay. The ensemble regularly re-forms into solo, duet, and trio combinations, aided by the players' doubling instruments. Jenkins' mastery of thematic improvisation, including motive recall and motivic transformation, provides an especially valuable unifying element. In "Invasion," hear the opening sustained tones over a rattle (ghostly chains?) that are strained into heated tension, erupting into a fast tempo and three long tones that are Jenkin's solo's cell motive. Another highlight of this disc is the wonderfully conceived, far-ranging violin solo that becomes a colorful violin-bass-drums trio improvisation at the center of "Hu-Man." And don't miss "Col Legno," named for a technique of playing strings with the wood of the bow, which features especially close, intense interplay of violin-bass-piano. There are many other delights in this CD, for these artists are near the peak of their creative powers in The Psyche. Their remarkable realization of the ensemble ideal still is revolutionary, nearly three decades later. For us Americans, it's a joy and a revelation to finally hear this album.
- John Litweiler, November 2003
by Joe Milazzo
1 July 2004, One Final Note
Shake what's left of the dust off of this commendable reissue of a rare 1975 release by the trio of Leroy Jenkins (violin and viola), Sirone [Norris Jones] (bass), and Jerome Cooper (piano, drums), skip right to track 3, Jenkins' composition "Col Legno", and try to fathom how this group can have remained as obscure as they have.
"Col Legno" is the kind of performance on which great band reputations, like Air's or Die Like A Dog's, are built. As Sirone hauls enormous, rip-sawing drones from his bass using the eponymous technique of striking its strings with the wood rather than the "hair" of his bowit's a technique you may also recognize from the opening of Holst's "Mars"Jenkins plays melodies that are both seductive and funky in the best AACM tradition. What is fundamentally a very simple, even minimal idea goads these three musicians into performances of marvelous textural, gestural, rhythmic, and harmonic complexity. The piece concludes with an arco solo from Sirone that is suffused with the strontium-90 sunset hues familiar to fans of Get Up With It. Gradually, the tiniest shafts of blue and white starlight break through these garish bands of orange, pink, brown and purple in the form of high, delicate violin tones. In a freakishly rapid lunar eclipse, Cooper introduces a press roll that overtakes the trio, and the piece ends not with complete darkness, but in a preserved twilight.
The other two long tracks here are no less involving. It is just that the excitements they offer are more typical. Perhaps it is simply that the wonderfully jumbled yet propulsive interplay of the entire trio is so engrossing that I find the more episodic ensemble permutations of "Invasion" and "Hu-man" (written by Cooper and Sirone, respectively) slightly less remarkable. Even with only three members and minimal instrumental "doubling", there are several duos and unaccompanied soloists within The Revolutionary Ensemble. On the opening, 27-minute "Invasion", Sirone and Cooper engage in a bass-piano duet. Actually, it is more accurate to describe it as a bout rather than a duet. Theirs is a musical exchange full of blunt intensity and moments during which what might simply make a thud if unaccompanied is graced with a perfectly consonant blow, and achieves something like synchronicity.
The problem is, these ingenious if rather abstract studies in dynamics aside, the duet is still missing something. And that something is Leroy Jenkins. With his proudly unamplified, tart, lanky sound, centered nearer the bow rather than the strings or the resonant wooden body of the instrument itself, Jenkins was quite the tonic to the Romantic voice cultivated by the fusion violinists such as Jean-Luc Ponty and Michael Urbaniak. (Here is a history waiting to be told: How the often vertiginous discordance of electric violin strings is an important texture in a good deal of quintessentially "Seventies" music, from the progressive rock of P.F.M. and mid-period King Crimson to the pomp pop of E.L.O., from the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" to the Mahavishnu Orchestra to the Charlie Daniels Band [don't make me name that song...] to Joe Venuti's marvelous swing collaborations with Zoot Sims.) Of course, Jenkins is also a classically trained player who is more generous with melody than many of his peers from the second generation of great African-American free improvisers, and he generally avoids glibly ecstatic displays of virtuosity. Instead, he concentrates on the construction of brilliantly organized improvisations. His solos on The Psyche are as bold and as memorable as any in his discography.
As slight as it is, a string is a very sensual object after all. Put in the service of sound and wound taut, allowed to slacken, plucked, struck, scrubbed, bowed, scraped up (or down) its length rather than stroked than across its breadth, segmented, taped down and re-segmented again... all it takes is a single, casual touch to make a stringed instrument respond. In this respect, violins, cellos, guitars (and pianos, too) are not unlike drums. Yet where drums palpitate, strings bend, and bend to us, is a much more seductive manner.
In fact, the acoustical gratifications offered by stringed instruments
are bewitching. The arrival of The Psyche is unexpected but no less welcome
for it, for the record serves as a reminder that The Revolutionary Ensemble
was among the finest cooperative groups of its era. Collectively as well as
individually, the Ensemble's members faced the temptations attendant upon making
"free jazz" on stringed instruments without recourse to castigation,
sanctimony, appeasement, or misplaced compassion. To borrow a phrase that had
great currency in the free jazz societies of the 1970s, they resisted temptation
with the sense that the resistance itself is "as serious as your life".
When Leroy Jenkins brought his AACM ways with him to New York,
he altered that city's musical landscape forever. Bringing the "new thing"
as the Chicagoans played it, he formed a trio (on bass, Sirone; on drums, Jerome
Cooper) that survived through the '70s. Formed in the halcyon days of Nixon's
war on everyone, the Revolutionary Ensemble embraced musical radicalism. The
trio played music as rich in emotion and beauty as experimentation.
Jenkins and Sirone hold bowed while Cooper shakes bells and rattles to open "Invasion." On drums, Cooper races, with Sirone dropping the bow and plucking after him. Jenkins takes the bait and soon all three raise a storm. Sirone brings it down for a hard rubber solo, nearly handing off to Jenkins' vio;a. He creates a sublime acapella aria. A Rough edit causes a duet with Cooper on piano and Sirone to abruptly commence. While Cooper invents interesting avenues, Sirone plays like he's covered with ants. Eventually his enthusiasm infects Cooper, who picks up his pace. After their fruitful interplay, Jenkins rejoins and Cooper relights the furnace in his drum set. Their tempestuous finale keeps the 27 minute piece fresh till the end. Sirone's cool bass into to on "Collegno" becomes framework for Jenkins and Cooper's unisons and differences. Sirone and Cooper on piano throw lines back and forth. Jenkins plays at Sirone's pace with color by Cooper, the string players chopping up their attack like cole slaw.
The Revolutionary ensemble took the original release pressing of The Psyche with them on a tour of Europe and sold them all. Thirty years later, the second pressing is finally mass released in America. -Rex Butters, All About Jazz Los Angeles
The Revolutionary Ensemble (Leroy Jenkins, violin, viola; Sirone,
bass; Jerome Cooper, drums, piano) is one of the great unsung bands of the 1970s.
They seem to have been forgotten by many but they were on of that era's most
vital bands. Part of the problem was that most of their recordings were on smaller
labels, with the exception of the last two which were on the A&M distributed
Horizon label. The Psyche is probably the hardest of their recordings to find,
so this reissue is particularly welcome.
The main calling card of this group was Jenkins' fantastic violin and viola work. At the time of his emergence, the instrument had not ha much of a presence in the "free jazz" movement. But after a couple of recordings with Archie Shepp and Rahsaan Rpland Kirk and his work in Paris with Anthony Braxton and Leo Smith, he let everyone know what his instrument could do. But the group was so much more than Jenkins. Sirone's bass was a mighty instrument, as capable of low menacing grumbles as well as high howling shrieks. Jerome Cooper's rolling polyrhythms provided a multi-directional bed that shot the music off in a variety of directions. Additionally Cooper was a master colorist with a variety of smaller instruments that added to the group texture.
The Psyche was the group's third album (after Vietnam on ESP and the great Manhattan Cycles done for India Navigation.) This was also the only album released on their own label (RE). The program consists of three compositions: "invasion" by Cooper, "Hu-Man" by Sirone, and "Collegno" by Jenkins. "Invasion" took up all of side one and was a suite of sorts. It began with a low bass drone, with Jenkins hovering above and Cooper coloring with cymbal splashes. When they kick into gear, Sirone shifts to a running bass line, Cooper lays down a steady ride cymbal rhythm and Jenkins is off. This was a group of three musicians who knew each other well and they knew how to support and prod each other. And it was never just two musicians supporting Jenkins. This was an ensemble of equals and each shone in his role. "Invasion" is a lengthy piece and its only lull us during a meandering interlude where Cooper switches to piano for a duet section with Sirone. The piece ends mid-drum solo which is picked up at the beginning of "Hu-Man." And therein lies the main complaint about this disc. On LP, one had to get up and flip it over to continue, but here the two should have been merged into a seamless whole. Even if they hadn't used the master tapes for this issue (and the sound is quite good), surely with today's sophisticated technology, something could have been done. As it is, it was a missed opportunity and the flow of the piece is destroyed. That said, "Hu-Man" is as straight ahead as the band got (at this time) and there's a swinging, driving solo by Jenkins on this piece. Jenkins' "Collegno" is driven by a bassline that involves Sirone tapping his line out with the bow while Jenkins and Cooper etch out the delicate theme on violin and piano.
This is not my favorite Revolutionary Ensemble album. My vote would go to either People's Republic or Manhattan Cycles. But since neither of these recordings has been reissued on CD, this definitely one to pick up. - Cadence, September 2004
In 1972 the Revolutionary Ensemble registered their presence
with recordings on the cutting edge ESP and India Navigation labels. Four years
later, the trio's music attained a degree of high profile exposure when The
People's Republic was issued on A&M's enterprising Horizon label. Prior
to this, in 1975, violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone (Norris Jones) and
drummer Jerome Cooper had taken matters into their own hands, releasing The
Psyche in limited numbers under their own RE imprint. At last its three tracks
- Cooper's "Invasion", Sirone's "Hu-Man", Jenkins's "Col
Legno" - can be heard more widely.
Sirone had previously played with the incendiary spirits of New York's free jazz scene - saxophonists Noah Howard, Arthur Doyle and Pharoah Sanders, guitarist Sonny Sharrock and drummer Sunny Murray. He was also entering a fruitful phase with pianist Cecil Taylor. But the expanded conceptions brought out of Chicago by Jenkins and Cooper enabled him to explore, within the maverick chamber music of the Revolutionary Ensemble, other dynamics, different textures, moods and relationships between instrumental voices.
Jenkins has an incisive tone, coiling fluently around and out from thematic cells. But although his looping line tends to disclose with great clarity the figure latent in the music's field, the group resist establishing a hierarchy of voices. Each member is allowed solo space and duets occur. Sirone's double bass and Cooper, occasionally on piano as well as drums, can drive with force but their input is thoroughly, spontaneously compositional rather than supportive and secondary. Their weight and density are articulate. As The Psyche cofirms, the poise of the energetic interplay between all three made the Revolutionary Ensemble special. - Julian Cowley, The Wire, May 2004