Friday, 31 August 2007

Thomas Chapin...

The only way to follow the sad news of Richard Cook's passing is with something positive, some music that inspires. I know that he enjoyed this CD because it made it into the Editor's 'Pick of the Month'.

Who could dislike Chapin's music? Even his more mainstream recordings, made right at the end of his career, knock spots off most other efforts within that often predictable genre. The fact that Chapin also died far too soon is another poignant parallel that makes the timing of this posting even more apt...

Playscape Recordings (PSR 071595)

Anima; Pet Scorpion; Night Bird Song; Aeolus; Bad Birdie; Changes Two Tires; Ticket To Ride.

Thomas Chapin (as/sno/f); Mario Pavone (b); Michael Sarin (d).
Recorded at North Sea Jazz Festival 1995.

One of my biggest regrets is still that I missed Thomas Chapin’s Trio at the Glasgow Jazz Festival in the early 1990s. I already knew the records Third Force and Anima and had played them to both death. For some reason I didn't go. That was the last chance I had to see the irrepressible force that was Thomas Chapin, leukaemia claiming the saxophonist’s life shortly afterwards at age 40.

This recording, as if to rub salt in my long-festering wounds, comes from the trio’s zenith and captures them live and at their brilliant best. The same trio also recorded for the Knitting Factory’s label augmented by strings and brass, and Chapin cut a couple of exemplary mainstream discs for Arabesque, but the freewheeling trio music that we have here remains my favourite Chapin. His post-McLean alto scythes through the music, the duo of Pavone and Sarin completing a most elastic unit, capable of going in any direction at the drop of a hat whilst always remaining on the same page.

The set opens with a 17-minute romp through ‘Anima’, Chapin’s plaintive alto cast alone before Pavone and Sarin enter with the kind of metal-meets-hip-hip riff based groove that spells ‘we mean business’. No room for excessive testosterone however, the theme quickly dissolves and Chapin builds a thrilling solo over an almost African-sounding Pavone bass ostinato, before Sarin explodes and raises the temperature. It was never this loose in the studio, and that’s exactly why we need this performance, even if the sound quality is a little bit ‘straight from the mixing desk’.

‘Pet Scorpion’ is as lithe and dangerous as its title suggests, stopping and starting abruptly, moving with purposeful agility, and essentially recognisable throughout as post-bop. The most beautiful moments, and above all Chapin was a player of great beauty, come when he switches to flute. ‘Night Bird Song’ and ‘Aeolus’ are sandwiched in the middle of the set and appear almost as an oasis of calm.

Mario Pavone describes Chapin’s writing style as ‘big band music for trio’, and the range of sounds and colours, not to mention the complexity of his scores, are testament to this. ‘Night Bird Song’ is perhaps the highlight of the set, and in less than thirteen minutes I’m reminded how much I still miss Chapin. “Bad Birds’ and ‘Changes Two Tyres’ whizz by and transfix, before the set ends with some fun, a run through The Beatles’ ‘Ticket To Ride’. The trio find punk/thrash potential that not even the Fab Four could have imagined, but Chapin was always very much a man with his own ideas. Essential listening.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, November 2006)

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