And Now
Pi Recordings PI 13

NotTwo MW 751-2

Picking things up from when they were “so rudely interrupted” 27 years ago, as the expression has it, the members of The Revolutionary Ensemble (RE) got together for concerts and recordings in mid-2004.

Their appearance at New York’s Vision Festival and this recording show that they’ve lost nothing in the intervening quarter century plus. In fact, the close cooperation between the three provide the sort of sympathetic interchange violinist Leroy Jenkins, sometimes, and percussionist Jerome Copper most of the time, has lacked in solo projects.

Bassist Sirone, now Berlin-based, is different. Never the most domineering of musicians, his low-key contributions to AND NOW… means he plays second fiddle literally to Jenkins and Cooper. However the co-op group does perform two of his compositions, most notably the final “Ism Schism”, whose deceptively simple melody won’t leave your mind after the CD has ended.

As CONCORD, the most recent CD by his own band – recorded almost 12 months before the Ensemble reunion –shows, the bassist is most comfortable as a rhythm rock and accompanist. The compositions he wrote for the date illustration his strength – and each gives his young quartet members ample solo space.

No violinist in improvised music has as distinctive a timbre as Jenkins and the RE CD gives him plenty of space in which to exhibit it. As he shows most spectacularly on his own “Light” the idea is to use a combination of steady bow pressure and nimble neck finger actions to produce multiphonics and partials in higher octaves. Meanwhile Cooper produces rattles and shakes plus martial rat-tat-tats and Sirone contributes dogged sul tasto bowing.

More serious is “911-544”, Cooper’s almost 21-minute memory of the September 11, 2001 attack on Manhattan. Beginning with the vocalized statement “it was a day like today”, the piece soon opens up with a squealing ponticello fiddle abstractly double and triple stopping. After the violin timbres are doubled by the bass, Cooper first plays swirling piano lines, then hammers out echoing balaphone tones. Multi-directional, he expands the sonic with rattling chains, keyboard comping and smeared tones from the chiramia or Mexican clarinet.

Midway through a darting, jocular (Thelonious) Monk-like fantasia is fractured by nasal vibrations and trilling overtones from the violin. As Jenkins’ output becomes harsher and rougher with coarse double-stopped spiccato tones, rattling cymbals and prodded keyboard cadences combine for foreboding motions. Soon, the violinist is playing high, abrasive notes as if he’s dentist drilling to repair a nagging toothache. Regular fiddle pulses suggest calm after the conflagration, although Cooper’s drums, perhaps to compensate and show that not everything stopped with 9-11, are busier than before.

Sirone’s compositional gifts are emphasized both on “Berlin Erfahrung” and “Ism Schism”. The former extends Jenkins’ ponticello tone with repetitions, while the bassist’s wok is more felt than heard. The latter’s simple melody is based on double counterpoint from the strings. Here the violinist’s simple line variation move from almost chamber baroque to vibrato extensions that presage Billy Bang’s acknowledged musical debt to the older fiddler. Introduced at the top, the leitmotif appears throughout, and is recapitulated legato at the end.

Sirone’s sidemen on CONCORD are tyros compared to his RE associates, though tellingly, two play the same instruments as Jenkins and Cooper. Munich-born drummer Maurice deMartin studied at New York University with avant movers like the late Dennis Charles and Joey Baron, he has also worked with East European jazz- and folk-musicians. His countryman, violinist Ulli Bartel, studied at Boston’s Berklee College, composes for theatre and film projects and usually plays with more mainstream musicians.

Odd man out is Washington D.C. native Ben Abarbanel-Wolff, a saxophonist who has lived in Berlin since 2001. Someone who studied with master percussionist Milford Graves, he often works with Sirone.

On this, the bassist’s first CD under his own name in 23 years, the four hit the ground running with “Aisha’s Serenade”, the first and longest tune. A waltz that manages to be both freeboppish and country’n’western-like, it’s built on a lilting theme expressed by the saxophonist and fiddler. Almost immediately however Abarbanel-Wolff goes off on his own with slurs and trills in a gritty post-Sonny Rollins style, mixed with Aylerian overblowing. Sirone’s steady thump and de Martin’s rumble back Bartel adding tremolo country-like licks, though his tone would be a little thin for Nashville. Buzzing vibrations characterize the bassist’s interpolation and the piece climaxes with a brief drum solo featuring shaken claves.

From that point until the final tune that reprises the second one, all the compositions run right into one another without pause. Especially notable are “For all we don’t know” and “Swingin’ on a string of things/For Albert”, which one after another show off Sirone’s writer’s gifts. The first is pastoral, near baroque chamber piece, while the second, as can be guessed by the title, relates to those sessions saxophonist Albert Ayler made with Dutch violinist Michael Sampson.

Sounding as if Abarbanel-Wolff is playing the baroque flute and Bartel the viola d’amore, the former piece features the bassist’s lateral accompaniment giving Bartel space to vibrate a legato, unhurried and refined solo section. Eventually Abarbanel-Wolff proves it’s a saxophone in his hands, and begins growling. Standard drumbeats bisected by wood block, rattles and maraca shakes then moderate the reed squeaks.

Polyphonic harmonies characterize the violinist and saxman on the second number. Abarbanel-Wolff takes a winding, overtone rich solo, though even here his harsh double tonguing and glottal reed biting are more Rollins circa THE FREEDOM SUITE than Ayler. Bartel adds staccato, double-stopped vibrations, Sirone’s plucked accompaniment holds down the bottom and de Martin bounces and rebounds his drum beats. Finally the theme is recapitulated in Aylerian fashion.

AND NOW… proves that the Revolutionary Ensemble still work together excellently after all these years apart, and the ellipses suggest there’s more to come. Meanwhile CONCORD suggests Sirone isn’t doing too badly on his own.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Concord: 1. Aisha’s Serenade 2. You are not alone but we are few 3. For all we don’t know 4. Swingin’ on a string of things/For Albert 5. You are not alone but we are few/Reprise

Personnel: Concord: Ben Abarbanel-Wolff (tenor saxophone); Ulli Bartel (violin); Sirone (bass); Maurice de Martin (drums)

Track Listing: Now: 1. Berlin Erfahrung 2. Rumi Tales 3. 911-544 4. Light 5. Ism Schism

Personnel: Now: Leroy Jenkins (violin, harmonica and bells); Sirone (bass); Jerome Cooper (multi-dimensional drums, balaphone, cymbals, drum set, keyboard, chiramia, tonal activator, bass drum and sock cymbal)