A few weeks after his soon to be – critically acclaimed – “Sky Piece” was released in 1998, saxophonist-composer Thomas Chapin passed away, following his yearlong bout with Leukemia. After several years of journeyman status with the likes of notables such as Lionel Hampton, Anthony Braxton and Chico Hamilton, Chapin finally attained widespread recognition with his profoundly original 1996 Knitting Factory release, “Haywire”.
While recorded in 1992, Thomas Chapin intentionally deferred the final production and release of Night Bird Song as a follow up to the more recent “Sky Piece”. Not sure why Chapin would hold back such a brilliant recording of such supremely crafted music and ensemble work by a Trio which had been in existence since 1989? Perhaps Chapin was uncertain of the timing or was anticipating reaction to the “Sky Piece” release? Marketing or artistic reasons aside, Night Bird Song does in fact represent the final studio recording from this remarkable band consisting of Chapin, drummer Michael Sarin and bassist Mario Pavone.
Chapin’s “Alphaville” which is also presented on “Sky Piece” is a musically demanding yet sonorous composition, which is a good indicator of Chapin’s broad writing skills. Here, the Trio swing, toggle between left-of-center and modern bop while prominently demonstrating keen intuitiveness, vigor and passion. A master technician, Chapin was equally adept on alto sax, flutes and sopranino sax yet Chapin conveyed an aura of beauty and enchantment through his unique and very personal sound... A prime example here is the piece titled, “Cliff Island” which features Chapin’s gorgeous tone and acute phrasing performances on sopranino sax. Here, the mid-tempo rhythms so eloquently performed by Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin prod Chapin into a rapid-fire attack as Chapin dramatizes themes and pursues rich harmonic development and luscious melodies. Throughout, the Trio’s interplay is always fascinating yet many disparate moods prevail or take hold of us, as if we were overcome with a spiritual reckoning or transfixed in prayer. Despite the often fierce and uncompromising attitudes within his arrangements and compositions, Chapin maintained an aura or glow, which always seemed to hover atop or perhaps beyond the music. Compositions such as “Tweeters Little Adventure” and “Changes Two Times” illustrate the Trio’s free jazz tendencies while they also establish a seemingly harmonious convergence of mainstream or post-bop elements. “Changes Two Times” is a testament to Chapin’s often blazing alto sax work atop an impossibly fast yet well stated meter, performed with serious minded urgency. Mario Pavone’s deep wooden acoustic bass tone and Sarin’s crisp, meticulous drumming are performed with the proficiency of a finely tuned sports car... When they need to step on the gas and put the gears in full stride, they succeed with grace and flair.......easily one of the top rhythm sections in modern jazz... Night Bird Song is among the finest jazz releases of 1999 or any year for that matter...
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Read Peter Madsen's tribute to Thomas Chapin in this month's Wide Open Jazz and Beyond .