Revolutionary Ensemble: Vietnam and Beyond the Boundary of Time

Clifford Allen By

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It could easily be argued that the "loft jazz" era of the '70s was a direct product of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), both in its moral structure and its eventual fragmentation. Loft spaces, artist-produced concerts and artist-owned labels were self-reliance projects, a cornerstone of the AACM. Furthermore, the relocation of many AACM musicians to New York necessarily changed the sonic waters, toward spaciousness and somewhat chamber music-like aesthetics in the bustling free music of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The Revolutionary Ensemble was one of the most crucial outfits to form in the decade and one of the more instrumentally unique—a deft and egalitarian variant on the power trio: ex-AACM violinist Leroy Jenkins carried with him echoes of Eddie South, Stuff Smith and John Coltrane, Chicago-born drummer Jerome Cooper who had been working with Steve Lacy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in Europe and bassist Sirone completed the trio. Sirone, who was born in Atlanta as Norris Jones in 1940 and died Oct. 21st, 2009, played with Cecil Taylor, Noah Howard, Marion Brown and Dave Burrell throughout the '60s and '70s before expatriating to Berlin. The Revolutionary Ensemble lasted about five years and five records before disbanding in 1977, only to reform in 2005. Jenkins' death in 2007 cast a silence on the trio, but their recorded legacy lives on.

Revolutionary Ensemble

Vietnam, recorded at the Peace Church in Greenwich Village in 1972, marked the group's debut on wax over two lengthy pieces (The first 'version' of the title track across one and a half sides, the second a shorter and blistering Trane chase making up the rest). The introductory theme is a bluesy rondo, of the sort that one might expect from Dewey Redman or Ornette Coleman. Jenkins wavers between folksy lilt and classical poise, digging in double-stopped chords and choppy, flicked aerial maneuvers as Sirone's distorted bull fiddle swirls in massive, gooey amplified sonic sections. Occupying opposite ends of the spectrum, bass and violin are an overdriven, interlocking pair, resoundingly physical and strangely dexterous. Cooper accents the duo's feedback and bleeding calluses with airy cymbal work and press rolls.

At eight minutes in, Jenkins introduces a militaristic call, like something a fife player might play, to a regulated tom beat and droning bass. Slurred long tones then build into darts and leaps among scalar stairsteps, echoes of Ayler-esque martial themes and Coltrane-infused arpeggios in a maddening string conversation. Following a clear, motific percussion solo, the second half focuses on contrasts between thick, abrasive textures and 'little instruments' (bells, wooden flute, harmonica) with a bit of amplifier hum for good measure. While bugle calls and rattling temporarily fill the environment, one waits for an explosion around the corner. An auspicious debut, Vietnam is an extremely intense slab of music and unlike anything else in the ESP catalogue.

Revolutionary Ensemble
Beyond the Boundary of Time
Mutable Music

Beyond the Boundary of Time is the final recording to be released from the reformed Revolutionary Ensemble, following the 2004 Pi release And Now... Recorded live in Warsaw in 2005 (indeed, the best documents of the group's work have been live dates), the set features a composition by each of the three members and two group improvisations. Granted, much music happened for the members of the trio between their 1977 Enja swan song and the beginning of the new millennium. While Sirone composed for theater and Jenkins worked in his own numerous ensembles, Jerome Cooper's visibility stateside shrank, though he continued to work on his concept of multi-dimensional drumming, which includes reed instruments, balafon, keyboards (a Yamaha PSR 1500), gongs and the trap set.

Cooper's composition "Le-Si-Jer" exemplifies this approach, employing synthesizer as a tonal backing for mostly a capella violin and bass poems. The percussionist's own solo is a multi-layered tone-field employing bass drum, piano, chiramia and bala. In a sense, the music here is imbued with a degree of separateness not found in the Ensemble's early recordings and it's hard to expect a perfect meld after nearly a quarter-century of absence from the international creative music scene. But Cooper's piece allows the three to operate in separate, parallel spheres toward a convergence of grit and ether—a beautiful reprieve, indeed.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Vietnam 1; Vietnam 2.

Personnel: Leroy Jenkins: violin, harmonica; Sirone: bass, wooden flute; Jerome Cooper: percussion, bugle.

Beyond the Boundary of Time

Tracks: Configuration; Usami; Le-Si-Jer; Improvisation I; Improvisation II.

Personnel: Leroy Jenkins: violin; Sirone: bass; Jerome Cooper: percussion, balafon, chiramia, Yamaha PSR-1500.


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