Leroy Jenkins tucks his fiddle under his chin, runs through a few arpeggios, brushes in a motif or two, and the music takes off like a rocket. Friday night at Strathmore Hall, under the auspices of DeReggi Interarts Projects, he played passages of unaccompanied polyphony, like a segment of a Bach partita, pentatonic melodies that could be the work of Debussy, deliberately scratchy sounds and resonant chords, a long tremolo on the E string that gradually evolves into a melody. One minute, he might remind you of a country fiddler whooping it up at a barn dance; then, moments later, he is running through intricate and flashy bits of technical display with an easy grace that might make you think of Paganini.
Sometimes, an incomplete melody doubles back and starts again in a slightly different form, repeating until it finds its destined shape. There are blue notes, showers of pizzicato, strange passages where his left hand rubs or scratches the strings. Sometimes the music seems improvised; often it conveys a sense of form and progression; occasionally it sounds like a random collage, but there is seldom any doubt that, in Jenkins's own words in a discussion after the concert, "I always know where I'm going."
In his discussion, after playing for about an hour, Jenkins talked about his folklore-rich opera, "The Mother of Three Sons," which has been performed in Germany and will be done by the New York City Opera and Houston Grand Opera later this year. He also gave the titles of the pieces: "Springboard," "Hipnosis," "Background to Life" (about a friend who was killed by heroin addiction), "Keep on Truckin' " (a brief brilliant, high-speed motu perpetuo), etc. It was interesting to hear all this after the music, but it would have been even more interesting before.