The last session with the Thomas Chapin Trio was recorded in July 1996 in the studio by his trusted engineer Robert Musso. It was released on the Knitting Factory label as “Sky Piece”, considered by many still today as one of Chapin's outstanding works of his career. His mainstream and avant-garde jazz are forming into a harmonious whole. Free trio improvisations alternate with nicely built and engaging compositions with subtle hints of his interest in African music; the only track he hasn’t composed himself is Monk’s “Ask Me Now”. Carefully dosed exotic sounds give color to the music: Thomas not only plays alto sax and sopranino, but also flute, bass flute and wooden flute and he uses bells, toy flutes and an alarm clock. Called during these trio years, 'the flute master of his generation,' Chapin's dexterous and consummate flute playing in Sky Piece testify to his undeniable command and dominion over the instrument. The common thread through the album seems time, the merciless clicking of the clock, the realization that his time has come. It’s only just before his death that he could make the recording ready for release.
But there was more unreleased trio music on the shelf: "Night Bird Song" was recorded at Kampo Cultural Center, NYC, from August and September 1992, for instance. But we had to wait until 1999 to hear this music on the Knitting Factory label. It was Thomas’s wish that this CD be released after “Sky Piece” (1996). Both CD’s have three compositions in common. The arrangements are not very different, but nevertheless there is a clear difference. On “Sky Piece” there’s balanced beauty--the trio is at its peak; while “Night Bird Song” is intense and full of wild enthusiasm. The pieces sound rougher and less polished: this is the young trio in a promising growth phase. One of the pieces that was never released before is “Aeolus”, a touching duet with Mario Pavone: brilliant interplay from two musicians that understood each other like no one else. No wonder Pavone records the same title with his own Nu Trio for “Remembering Thomas” (Knitting Factory, 1999), his homage to his great friend and colleague.
“Aeolus”, Thomas’s ode to the god of the wind, is also the last music he blows through his instrument. His last public performance is in Manchester, Connecticut – his birthplace - on February 1st, 1998. Two days later he’s back in the hospital and on February 13th Thomas, at age 40, lost the fight against his leukemia. And that’s the end of Thomas’s era.
SJU Jazz Festival, April 9th, 1994 © Marinus Lavèn
Based on the original text (in Flemish) by Jeroen Revalk (published in the paper version of Jazz'halo 1999, #4) and updated (in English) by Teresita Castillo Chapin (July/August 2016).
Translation to English: Jos Demol (with special thanks to Teresita Castillo Chapin for the corrections) (June 2016)