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When the Revolutionary Ensemble formed in the early ‘70s, the New Thing in jazz, disbursed mainly through the ESP label, had flamed brightly, been co-opted by political influences and developed into a more violent strain of free improvisation, a move from which it has yet to recover. What was happening concurrently was a total acceptance of any instrument into the jazz fold. Beneficiary of this benevolence was Leroy Jenkins, heir to the heritage of Stuff Smith but also the first to apply the dulcet tones of violin to a more experimental setting (at least in jazz).
After work with Archie Shepp and Alan Silva, and as a member of the woefully short-lived Creative Construction Company, Jenkins hooked up with bassist Sirone (né Norris Jones, who had been with Pharoah Sanders, Marion Brown, Gato Barbieri and others) and younger drummer Jerome Cooper (fresh from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s group). They formed the Revolutionary Ensemble and began working on “chamber jazz.” What this entails usually is an emphasis on string instruments (a reaction to the screeching saxophones that overpowered everything in their midst) and jazz-cum-classical compositional forms.
Sadly, for such an influential group, their five albums were released on five different labels, all out of print until now. Originally self-released, The Psyche was the third and thus far most accessible with three long pieces, one by each participant, featuring Jenkins’ cerebral tone, Sirone’s rich arco and Cooper’s percussion and surprisingly understated piano.
Though two of the three compositions are lengthy (accounting for 39 of the 47 minutes), you can focus on the subtle interactions between Jenkins and Sirone rather than struggling through the usual soup of a horn-based avant-garde session.