Friday, March 10, 2006

Jazz - Thomas Chapin

I've been hanging out at the jazz blog, Jazz Pour Tous, lately. The folks over there have been doing some killer write ups of jazz artists and their releases. Last week, they reminded me of an old favorite of mine, Thomas Chapin. I was introduced to Chapin's work while working as music director at WORB in either 1991 or 1992. I had picked up an album (long out of print) by Robert Musso called 'Active Resonance'. Thomas was listed as Thomas 'Rage' Chapin and he had this killer sax solo on one of the best tunes on the album. Because I was so entranced, I decided to seek out his solo works. I was not let down. The Thomas Chapin Trio became, for me, one of those obsessions where I listen to the albums over and over again and never tire of them. Sadly, over time, I played the records less. Not because I tired of them, but because life takes you on the journey to other, new sounds. Still, it's good to look back and reflect every so often. So, Chapin remains on my shelves along with Miles and Coltrane, Gillespie and Puente, and so many others. It was a gift to be reminded of his work. Better still, the kind folks at Jazz Pour Tous invited me to contribute which gave me a great deal of time to listen to the old albums. I'm still going through them and re-absorbing them while also catching up on what I missed by reading other posts on the blog.

One thing I was reminded by was how many of the Thomas Chapin Trio albums were recorded live. As powerful as these albums are, it doesn't come close to having actually seen the group. I saw them play - twice on the same day - at the DuMarier Jazz Festival in Vancouver in 1994. The early show was a 45 minute set on one of the free stages in Gastown. I had sat through 6 hours of music before the Trio took the stage. While waiting for them to set up, I grabbed some dinner at The Spaghetti Factory, snagging a seat outside on the sidewalk with a clear view of the stage. Before the show, while setting up mikes, a child walked to the front of the stage with a toy on a string. The child was dancing around and snaking the toy through the air like some sort of Chinese dragon. Chapin, who was warming up, seemed delighted at the scene. He got this mischevious look in his eye and a grin on his face and he began improvising a soundtrack for the toys movements. The child played along. For a few minutes, I watched as Chapin whirled through notes on his alto sax - moving faster as the child moved faster and slowing down to thump on his reed when the child slowed down. It was lovely.

The Trio took the stage a short time later and blew everyone away. Listening to Chapin, no matter how avant garde he got, no matter how squeeky or squawky, it still came off as perfectly reasonable and almost melodic. Mario Pavone attacked his bass like no one I've seen before or since attack it. Pavone appeared to be wrestling with his instrument. It was a very physical relationship. And what can I say about Michael Sarin, the drummer? A madman with a chest full of surprises and a galaxy of creativity. It was never really off putting and most people seemed to enjoy it. The short set only got my blood boiling for the show that night.

The evening show took place in an art gallery, of all places. The owners had hung a tapestry to seal off some of the sound and handle the acoustics. Beer and wine were served. The place may have held 50 people. Lots of folks showed up and I think that they ended up packing the place and turning some away. Being by myself, I ended up sharing a table with 4 other people. One of those folks worked for the jazz festival as a volunteer and she hadn't heard of Chapin, but was told that it was the place to be that night. The trio took the stage at around 10 PM. They put on 2 sets of music and didn't leave until 2:30AM. The energy was so high that the audience was screaming approval throughout the show and providing standing ovations between tunes. The whole trio seemed to be on fire, feeding off of the crowd. Indeed, when they wrapped up the first set on a quiet note, Chapin, Pavone, and Sarin leapt from the stage together and strutted, practically skipped, through the crowd in rock star fashion. Unlike rock stars, though, these people were thoroughly approachable. During the break, Pavone came out and spoke with several folks. It was all relaxed. When they hit the stage again, they attacked as if they had found a well of energy during the break. Pavone stripped down to his t-shirt, Chapin opened up his shirt and took his cap off, and Sarin wiped his brow throughout the first song. But they carried that energy for another 2 hours. Simply amazing.

All Music describes Chapin this way:
Chapin was a player of great generosity and authentic spirituality. He played with rare humor, passion, and intelligence. At the end of his life, he was just beginning to receive attention outside the realm of experimental jazz. Indeed, had he lived, it's not inconceivable that Chapin's amalgam of freedom and discipline might have become a force in the jazz mainstream.
Thomas Chapin died from leukemia in 1998. He passed too quickly from this world. His fans are lucky to have the documentation of his art that he has left to us. Check them out:

Third Force
Menagerie Dreams
Insomnia (over at Jazz Pour Tous)
Sky Piece
Night Bird Song
Live! On Tour

and 2, more traditional releases, with expanded line ups:

I've Got Your Number
You Don't Know Me


These are up for a VERY limited time.

1 comment:

euege said...

always liked him, thanks )