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And Now... Sirone

Andrey Henkin By

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The music has been abused by that word 'free'. Sometimes you get a lot of noise.
2004 was a busy year for Sirone. The bassist for the legendary Revolutionary Ensemble saw one of that group's five recordings reissued for the first time (and become the only document of the group to make it to the CD era); a few months later, spurred by the resurgent interest in the group, the trio reformed for an exultant set at the Vision Festival. Feeling flush with momentum, the group reentered the studio and recorded their newest album since 1977's self-titled disc on Enja. And Now... was released to acclaim on Pi Recordings and Sirone and cohorts Leroy Jenkins and Jerome Cooper were featured in a spread in Signal to Noise magazine. At the same time, Sirone the leader had an album released on the German label Not Two called Concord featuring him in tow with a quartet of young European musicians. And this fall, a group with Sirone, Billy Bang, Charles Gayle and Tyshawn Sorey gave a performance at CB's Gallery, recorded and to be released this spring by Silkheart Records. Not too bad for someone who splits his time between apartments on Christopher Street and Berlin.

Sirone grew up in Atlanta playing alongside such musicians as George Adams. He described his earliest musical experiences: "I was in high school, I played the trombone and I was kicked out of the orchestra." He moved to New York in the '60s and participated in numerous sessions with Noah Howard, Marion Brown, Dave Burrell, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman. But it was the grouping with Jenkins' violin and Cooper's percussion that cemented Sirone's place in improvisatory music history, the five years and five albums creating what is now referred to and practiced as "chamber jazz".

The group broke up in 1977 after a final performance at the Newport Jazz Festival: "We played it acoustic because we always talked about playing acoustic, damn, playing Avery Fisher Hall, we can play acoustic, this is a concert hall, George Wein came over and said 'beautiful, fellas, wonderful and you played acoustic.' 'Yes, Mr. Wein, it is not often we get the opportunity to play in a concert hall.'" The group also had the dubious distinction of helping shut down Herb Alpert's A&M label after their album on the sub-label Horizon drew the ire of then-new artistic director Quincy Jones, a story that Sirone still tells with a mixture of good humor and bitterness.

Sirone moved to Germany in the late '80s during the beginnings of reunification after having received a stipend from the German Academic Exchange Service. He chose to stay on past his one year for "personal reasons, for the reactions of the Europeans, how they react to this music that was different than how Americans react... I had opportunities there that probably would never be offered in this country to the extent of writing music for all medias." Like many musicians of his generation, Sirone has not limited himself to gigs and albums, focusing much of his energy to composing and playing music for the theater (including works by Sam Shepard), film and television. He tries to spend six months a year in New York but is easily frustrated with what he describes as "the pay-to-play" mentality of venues. Additionally, though he may be pigeonholed as a free player (though a listen to any of his recorded appearances past or present reveal instead abandon within structure), Sirone takes issue with that "genre": "I know that this music that has been labeled free jazz but nothing is free and this music free jazz certainly isn't free. As a composer, I put a definite attention towards the composition merely as a path of reaching the point where we can find that magical moment when you understand...that to reach that point of that freedom is discipline and that discipline is a study, this is why that word doesn't sit so well with me because it has been abused, the music has been abused by that word 'free'. sometimes you get a lot of noise."

Projects in Sirone's future include more work with the Revolutionary Ensemble, attempts to reissue his two first records as a leader, including Artistry with flutist James Newton ("I wanted to do something completely different than what I did with the Ensemble but I wanted another sound not with the traditional instruments you hear in the music and I thought of a flute but I did not want a saxophone player who doubled on the flute, I wanted a flautist."), the Sirone/Bang Ensemble album on Silkheart and one higher mission: "We're at a time when people really need to be educated about this music, the essence, the necessity, what this music magnifies, this music, this art form from this country magnified to the world. What is most and foremost is that we bring people together peacefully, in harmony, in all people. It's going on all over the world, they love it."

Recommended Listening:

Gato Barbieri Quartet (ESP, 1967)

– Revolutionary Ensemble - The Psyche (RE Records-Mutable Music, 1975)

– Sirone - Artistry (Of The Cosmos, 1978)

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