There’s something about improvised solo concerts that affects audiences in unique ways. Maybe it’s the fearless audacity of the performer or the vulnerability of the artist as he takes the stage armed only with instrument and imagination. Whatever it is, nobody has ever reached the heights that Leroy Jenkins has in his solo concerts. Improvising violinists are rare enough but Jenkins is preeminent where innovation, imagination and individualism are considered. Not only has he expanded the improvising violinist’s palette via extended technique, but his unique sound and approach are all but unprecedented. Add to this his strength as a composer, as well as a musician, and it becomes apparent that he’s head and shoulders above the competition. At this stage, his solo concerts are slowly but surely taking on an almost legendary quality. Considering that his only other live, solo recording was the much-admired 1977 India Navigation (IN 1028) LP, “Solo Concert,” what you hold in your hands is a long-awaited advancement and follow-up.
Having mesmerized a capacity crowd at Albuquerque’s The Outpost the night before, Jenkins arrived in picturesque Santa Fe, NM with his violin/viola and plenty to say. A 2:00 PM lecture at the Center for Contemporary Arts warmed up the mostly young, student crowd and displayed Jenkins’ understated sense of humor and easy affability. He proceeded to conduct a typically direct, to-the-point discussion of his background and music and fielded questions from the crowd. Had the violinist not played a note that evening, the crowd was already won over.
When the lights went down for the 8:00 PM concert, the electricity in the air was palpable. Incidentally, the entire concert including encore is contained on this disc. There has been some slight editing of applause, otherwise, what you hear on this CD is what the audience in Santa Fe heard that night. It would not be overstating the case, I think, to say that the music and the event were magical. Jenkins had the audience eating out of his hand from the first note he played and he wove a spell that kept them, literally, on the edge of their seats until the end.
Jenkins’ early nineties solo repertoire is well-represented. Compositions like “Hipnosis,” “Big Wood,” and “Festival Finale” have been performed in his solo concerts for years but are only now receiving their recording debut. The addition of the Gillespie and Coltrane pieces further illuminates Jenkins’ role in the continuation of the improvised music tradition. Although Jenkins is habitually breaking new ground, he didn’t develop in a vacuum, as these brilliant interpretations demonstrate. “Giant Steps” in particular is a wildly exciting foray into Coltrane’s harmonic thicket and Jenkins plays it, as he does everything he touches, as if he wrote it. The selection of this piece as an encore/closer was particularly apt.
Certainly, whether composing for the opera, soaring over his electric ensemble or appearing by himself in the spotlight, as he did that night in Santa Fe, Leroy Jenkins is a modern artist to be treasured. He makes music of great depth, passion and intellectual substance. The Santa Fe audience experienced the special magic of a Leroy Jenkins solo concert on October 24, 1992. Now, with this compact disc, you can too.
LEROY JENKINS is continually inventing his own musical language. His is an extraordinary bonding of a variety of sounds associated with the black music tradition, while simultaneously bridging with European styles. His intermeshing of jazz and classical influences leaves critics constantly wondering at his musical identity: however, all agree that “Jenkins is a master who cuts across all categories.” (The San Francisco Chronicle) “He is as quick as a cat, emotional as an actor, and as precise as a mathematician.” (St. Louis Post Dispatch) “No violinist in the field can touch Leroy Jenkins.” (The Village Voice)
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1932, Jenkins was already playing violin at the age of 8 at his local Ebenezeer Baptist Church. The flavor of spirituals still remains in his music. He studied music in high school and then attended Florida A&M University where he studied with Bruce Hayden and completed his B.S. in music. For the next ten years Jenkins remained in the South teaching music. Jenkins returned to Chicago in 1965 and was drawn into the wellspring of Chicago’s creative music activities. Almost immediately, he joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM). Jenkins recalls that this union marked the first time that as a violin player he was truly welcomed into creative music performances. During this time he played and recorded with Muhal Richard Abrams, Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton. In 1969, Jenkins left for Paris with Braxton and Smith. With the addition of drummer Steve McCall, they formed the Creative Construction Company. Their 1970 performance in New York, joined by Richard Davis on bass and Abrams on piano, gave New York the first taste of the new music that Chicago musicians were creating. Jenkins continued to work with the finest creative musicians .... Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, Mtume, Cal Massey, to name a few. But it was the work of the collective Revolutionary Ensemble (co-founded with bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper) that gained Jenkins prominence as the most significant violinist of the modern era.
After a decade of touring with his own groups and solo worldwide, Jenkins received a number of major commissions and is particularly in demand for experimental and theater-based work. Mother of Three Sons, a dance opera collaboration with Bill T. Jones, premiered in Germany and in 1992 was presented in New York by the New York City Opera and by the Houston Grand Opera. Prestigious commissioning programs such as The Rockefeller Foundation and the Readers Digest Program, along with Meet the Composer and National Endowment funding have awarded him grants to create several new works currently in various stages. Fresh Faust (a jazz rap opera) received its first workshop in Boston and was picked up by New York’s Public Theater for workshop. Also in the works are: The Negro Burial Ground, to be presented by the Kitchen theater in New York and Willie Horton for various venues in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.
Previous commissions have come from a wide range of institutions, such as the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Nickelsdorf Festival in Austria, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors (for solo violin and solo dancer). The Albany Symphony and the Kronos Quartet have performed his works, and his compositions were included in the American Composers Series presented by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Jenkins has also been sought after as a popular composer/musician-in-residence, in such universities as Oberlin Conservatory, University of Illinois, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Bennington College, Carnegie Mellon Institute. Leroy Jenkins has been honored and recognized by five NEA grants, as well as winning grants from New York Foundation for the Arts twice, the Creative Arts Program, and Harvestworks Artist in Residence Program. He was awarded a “Bessie” in 1992 for dance/opera composition.
A recent review in String Magazine called Jenkins “....not only the father of extended improvisational string music, but also one of the guiding lights of creative music as a whole....Jenkins has not only been a musical force but a moral one—guiding his peers in all areas of their musical lives.”
Recorded live at the Contemporary Arts Center, Santa Fe, NM by Carl Baugher.
Mastered by Allan Tucker, Foothill Digital Productions.
Cover photo: Linda Harris
Art Direction and Design: By Design
© P 1998 Lovely Music, Ltd.
LCD 3061 [D] [D] [D]