Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now... (2004)
When the Revolutionary Ensemble reformed at the last Vision Festival after 27 years, it was a special occasion, a novelty. It was felt that this could be more than a one-off reunion and that the band that spearheaded the chamber jazz movement could make a more permanent go of it. To that end, Pi Recordings brought them into the studio. The result is the group's sixth record for their sixth record label, one run by individuals still in adolescence when the group originally went under. The trio, Leroy Jenkins (strings), Sirone (bass) and Jerome Cooper (percussion, reeds and piano), played a celebratory concert at Joe's Pub last month, officially marking their reentry into a jazz scene much different than the one they left close to three decades prior.
Given jazz's long history, there are still surprisingly few instances of famed groups getting back together. That there is a still a place for what the Revolutionary Ensemble did back then is noteworthy. But after the warm glow of their reunion wears off, the group is in the uncomfortable position of having to be judged against groups that are currently following their once-lead. The Revolutionary Ensemble no longer is the only group doing what they do and their latest effort, And Now..., must either be judged next to their earlier work, the work of current and past chamber jazz ensembles or, most likely, both.
Judged in a vacuum, the album is energetic and has an appealing cerebral quality. No horns and a bassist that functions as an equal member of the front melodic line changes the dynamic away from what listeners typically expect from jazz. This music is not linear or even cyclical. It is reminiscent of the whack-a-mole game, elements popping up and down seemingly at random. There are themes but they are more bookends. Judged against their earlier work, a listener may be surprised that the years didn't have much intervening effect. Apart from the keyboards of Cooper, this could be any of their albums from the '70s. That is as good as starting point for their renaissance as any.
Track Listing: 1 Berlin Erfahrung 5:25; 2 Rumi Tales 6:55; 3 911-544 20:53; 4 Light 7:48; 5 Ism Schism 9:22.
Personnel: Jerome Cooper: Cymbals, Drums, Bass Drums, Keyboards, Balafon; Leroy Jenkins: Harmonica, Violin, Bells; Sirone: Bass.