Friday, 31 August 2007

Armen Donelian with Thomas Chapin...

Something for the weekend - a double dose of Thomas Chapin reviews!!

I'm working on a review of the new Dave Binney album, Oceanos, at the moment, and whilst he's not TC, he's definitely blossoming into a very fine player. Let's hope he can keep the passion burning and build a legacy like Chapin's.

Sorry the image below is a little small, but this is even more of an obscurity than the Esmond Selwyn cover I posted a while back. Very unfair...

Quartet Language

Jabberwocky; The Germ; Mexico; Loose As A Goose; Brood Mood.

Thomas Chapin (as); Armen Donelian (p); Calvin Hill (b); Jeff Williams (d).
Recorded May 1992.

Is this the disc to make Donelian more than just a footnote in jazz history? Probably not, because although he is bandleader and composer of all five selections on ‘Quartet Language’, the focal point of the disc is undoubtedly alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin. For the record, Donelian emerged in the mid-1970s and gigged in New York with some pretty high-profile jazz stars - from Roy Ayers to Sonnies Stitt and Rollins. His playing is solid if unspectacular, a two handed player who manages to cover the entire width of the keyboard in each chorus. Only a few discs as leader on New York label Sunnyside seem to have survived, but this project, by virtue of the presence of Chapin, should at last bring him wider attention.

Recorded when Chapin was at his peak (just after Third Force and Anima, possibly the last great statements of the declining Downtown scene), Chapin’s Dolphy-esque alto bristles with the electricity missing on later more self-consciously mainstream outings. Whilst none of Donelian’s pieces are future standards, they all serve well as launchpads. ‘Jabberwocky’ is a Monk-ian theme in waltz time, ‘The Germ’ a more abstract piece incorporating Chapin in a series of duos and up-tempo quartet burnouts. ‘Mexico’ shouldn’t need any further elucidation and is the one low-spot of the disc, ‘Loose As A Goose’ is as playful and off-the-wall as its title suggests, whilst ‘Brood Mood’ is a suitably reflective piece and Chapin is simply breathtaking.

The trio are solid enough to cope with this passionate and often complex music, but when Chapin is not playing the temperature drops noticeably. Rather like Dolphy’s ‘Last Date’, all of the excitement comes from the saxophonist’s corner. That leukaemia strikes down a man aged 40 is always going to be tragic - when the man is as gifted as Thomas Chapin the tragedy assumes greater significance. Quartet Language leapfrogs its way up the list of essential recorded documents of this justly celebrated saxophonist and should never have gone almost twelve years unreleased - top marks to small independent label Playscape for giving it a home.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2004)

1 comment:

The Ghost of Jerry Reed said...

Whoa, obscure indeed! Great write-up!