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Thomas Chapin Trio, Night Bird Song (CD, 53:10); KFR-240, 1999
Knitting Factory Records
74 Leonard Street
New York, NY 10013
Phone: 212-219-3006
Cyberhome: www.knittingfactory.com

         Saxophonist/flautist Thomas Chapin died of leukemia in February 1998 
at the age of 40. Night Bird Song is a posthumous release of a 
1992 recording session, and it's beautiful, confirming Chapin's 
stature as an immortal jazz artist. With Chapin on alto and sopranino 
saxes, flute, and alto flute, Mario Pavone on bass, and Michael Sarin 
on drums and percussion, Night Bird Song memorializes Chapin 
the man as it documents musical creativity of the highest order.
	While Chapin's music can safely be called avant-garde, 
finding a home under the Knitting Factory umbrella, there's something 
uncommonly accessible about it. Listening to this record, you don't 
struggle in vain to understand some rarefied discourse-you move your 
body. Chapin knew how to make high art and simultaneously please a 
crowd. He created new and original sounds without being 
self-consciously cute or pointlessly outrageous. His avant-garde was 
not an anything-goes affair. There was furious and irrepressible 
energy, but control and calibration were never far behind. He drew on 
genres and stylistic influences other than jazz, yet without 
hodge-podge results. The horn virtuosity and compositional maturity 
on this record easily matches any giant of our day-Joe Lovano's 
Trio Fascination comes to mind.
	"Opening," listed in the liner notes as "Eternal Eye," begins 
the disc with a wispy, rubato, flute-driven meditation. The piece 
ends, an alarm clock goes off (literally), and the trio kicks off 
"Alphaville," featuring a ridiculously clever unison melody played by 
alto and drums with a clock-like bass line underneath, then an 
insanely funky groove in 10, and finally an eruption into breakneck 
swing. Chapin begins a killer solo that is unfailingly in the pocket, 
deeply informed by bebop, and rich with references to the melody of 
the tune. The trio interplay is tumultuous, with Sarin's drums really 
revving up during the trading toward the end.
	The next three tracks, "Night Bird Song," "Cliff Island," and 
"The Roaring S," are also knockout punches. Chapin's sopranino intro 
and solo on "Cliff Island" are superb-perhaps what Joe Henderson 
would sound like on the small, high-pitched horn. Pavone's 
unaccompanied intro to "Night Bird Song" is wonderful, as is Sarin's 
on "The Roaring S." On the latter, Chapin plays his alto without a 
reed, exhibiting masterful note control. Sarin repeats and repeats a 
fast 6/8 rudiment as Chapin continues the reedless blowing, and the 
sheer instrumental mastery of it all creates a dizzying effect.
	The pace slows with a singable ballad called "Aeolus," which 
is followed by the whimsical "Tweeter's Little Adventures." Capping 
things off is the furious, fast funk of "Changes Two Tires." There is 
not a weak track on the album. Each tune has a distinct personality 
and demonstrates a different facet of Chapin's, and this trio's, 
musical imagination. Although it's said too often of too many, it is 
indeed baffling why Thomas Chapin is not more widely known. Perhaps 
now that he's gone, typically, his popularity will grow.
~David R. Adler

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