Leroy Jenkins | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Leroy Jenkins 

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LEROY JENKINS

Leroy Jenkins has played the violin for 60 years, and in his music--particularly his unaccompanied performances, such as the one this Wednesday--you can hear that lifetime of practice. His utter absorption of the rules of his instrument allows him to break them with authority, augmenting classical techniques with creaks, scratches, sobs, and squeals. When he pulls a hollow, lanky tone from the G string, it expresses deep wisdom and emotion--which more than justifies any unorthodox method of drawing horsehair over catgut. Born in Chicago in 1932 and educated in Walter Dyett's legendary DuSable High music program, Jenkins joined the fledgling AACM in the mid-60s; at the end of the decade he rode the avant-garde's second wave to Paris and then New York. He participated in what remains one of the greatest AACM recordings ever, the long-out-of-print Creative Construction Company, and in 1971 cofounded the Revolutionary Ensemble, still the very model of a cooperative improvising trio. He's the only modern player to successfully combine the two original schools of jazz violin--the raucous swing and rough tone established in the 20s by Joe Venuti and the lilting, refined pyrotechnics Stephane Grappelli introduced a decade later--even though he works in idioms very different from either of them. I saw Jenkins perform solo in Chicago a couple years ago, and then caught him in '99 as part of the trio Equal Interest, whose eponymously titled new album is the most recent document of his work; at both gigs he showed how well his music has aged. Grounding his lines in simple, straightforward rhythms, he taps the violin's ancient history as a folk instrument, and an hour of his solo playing can seem to rush by in half the time. His improvisations, unfettered by harmonic or formal constraints, generate their own idiosyncratic chord schemes and free-flowing stanzas, at once unfamiliar and perfectly comprehensible--and when he pauses to polish a melodic nugget, it takes on a satiny gleam. Wednesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

Neil Tesser

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