Thomas Chapin Trio Plus Strings Haywire
Haywire is the second large ensemble work of trio with strings composed by Thomas Chapin in 1995 and performed, recorded live in NYC and released in 1996.
All compositions and arrangements by Thomas Chapin © Peace Park Publishing, except “Diva” by Enrico Rava (arranged by Thomas Chapin).
Recorded Live at the Knitting Factory, New York City, January 24 & 27, 1996 by Jon Rosenberg & Brett Heinz. Mixing and Editing by Jon Rosenberg & Brett Heinz.
Produced by Thomas Chapin. Cover Photo by Marc Marnie Design by Peter Hill
Thomas Chapin, alto sax, mezzo-soprano sax, baritone sax, flute, miscellaneous instruments; Mario Pavone, bass; Michael Sarin, drums with Mark Feldman, violin; Boris Rayskin, cello; Kiyoto Fujiwara, bass
by Thomas Chapin:
THOUGHTS A work is born because it demands to be born. It is a seed from another dimension whose roots grow deeper even as the fruit ripens in the manifest world. This is only slightly a rational process. It can be named, but the Reality behind the name is much greater and remains mysterious. It flirts with insanity. It dances with Angels and Demons.
My work reflects my inner world. Many beings inhabit this world—how am I to know them and ultimately love them, except to let them sing out through the music? Each work is a mission towards self-awareness.
Haywire is a tangle of personalities—an energetic bundle of loose ends. It is a state of mind where the normal rules have been disconnected, a snafu which frees me from the usual bindings. In this situation, hope or desire of maintaining “everyday mind” is lost, and yet, it is here that my artistic supra-sensibility or potentiality can arise, unrestrained.
My music is often a vent for the imaginary monsters who reside within the lunatic aslyum of my mind and other crazy characters which form the amalgam of “me.” They appear and tell their story, receiving recognition, love and ridicule. Their manifestation is a way for me to get to know myself, to reflect and be reflected. And how I love to stare! Am I the Geek who is being gawked at or am I the gawker at the Geek? (The title, “Geek Gawkin,’” was inspired by a Firesign Theater line.) If you look up “geek” in an old dictionary, you’ll definitely get an insight into the piece. If I am sarcastic or teasing, which I often am, it is because mixed emotions reach unlit places within me. Bittersweet is a mixture which carries a certain potential. Bitter and sweet, when experienced separately, can overwhelm and carry me away into imagined ecstasy. But by experiencing the mixture—bitter/sweet—I can unite opposites and view my selves more deeply from understanding (or overstanding).
I am attracted to the Dadaists and Surrealists for their use of irrationality as a hammer, bashing through the sleepy formality of accepted reality in order to taste a bit of the sweetness or higher realms. Of course, it’s a dangerous game, as it should be. Nowadays we are quite used to being shocked, and so “old trickster” must be summoned in new ways. Confound the expectations. I want to give you the opposite of what you expect, maybe. Unabashed beauty can be a shock, if applied at the right moment (context). It’s timing! Also, duration as a compositional element is vital, as in meditation where one rises and falls against the rock of Will. The point is to stay AWAKE and alive to what is going on.
ABOUT THE COMPOSITIONS
Haywire, as I explained above, represents the state of mind where normal connections are severed, and new possibilities arise. When I can beam free of my “everyday mind,” heightened sensibility and potential can arise, unbound, within me. I hope for this condition every time I play. “Diva” is the odd one here, but not really, although I’ve joked that it’s my one concession on the CD to the concept of the strings “play for lovers” we all know and love—it’s that and much more. She’s also part of the pantheon of angels and demons dancing in my head, and Beauty will not be ignored. (Maybe I am easily bored, but never by beauty.)
This evocative, quasi-operatic aria was written by the great Italian trumpeter and composer Enrico Rava, with whom I had the pleasure to perform at the New Music Meeting in Baden Baden in Fall, ’95. A nod goes to Hermeto Pascoal, Brazil’s great musical genius, whose “Bebe” more than inspired the string chorus on my arrangement. By the way that’s the mezzo-soprano saxophone in F (Conn 1928) singing the song.
“Devil’s Hopyard” is a loose collection of pieces formed into a suite. These were composed specifically for the Trio plus Strings project, as apart from “Haywire” and “Geek Gawkin,” which were grown as trio pieces first, with an ear toward expansion. The hopyard (no such word in the dictionary) is a state park near the east-central Connecticut shore with definite “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” feel. There are dark corners in New England that certainly correspond with the dark corners of the mind.
One night after a gig in New London, I felt compelled to drive through the unlit, wooded hopyard on one of those one-lane roads. I stopped completely, got out and faced the darkness, alone. That’s when the Bugbears came out. They are the false monsters made real only by the imagination and must be faced—stared down, if you will. Anyway, the “hopyard” seemed like a good repository for some of the characters dredged up in the music. I especially like the rooty-tooty little fella in “Hoofin’.” “Eidolon” is another term for “phantom,” and it’s lots of fun to hear what happens when you tell musicians to “play spooky” in the improvised sections. Basically we do the same thing in “Bump in the Night,” only there is no exact written part and there’s a bit more “oomph.”
“Hoofin’” quite unexpectedly developed into an African-sounding piece, particularly because Michael Sarin and I are big fans of African sounds, I suppose, and it just “went there.” Having been thoroughly steeped in the flute playing of Roland Kirk, I immediately made the connection when I heard recordings of various flute styles of West Africa—WOW! To hell with the flute-haters club!
The big challenge on “Bugbears” for me was to flow completely wild in the trio section and maintain a serene central eye (“I”) which would enable me to negotiate the tricky technical passage immediately following, as well as keeping breath control through it. There’s a real practical lesson here!
“At Peace with My Demons” is one of those rare pieces which bubbles up whole and heartfelt onto the composer’s page. Its classical simplicity somehow evokes impressions I had of my sister Sally when I was a kid, so it’s dedicated to her.
Finally, “Geek Gawkin’” is a big, clod-hopper stomper—a real rubbernecker, bulging eyes, vein popper, by gosh. Everyone gets a workout here—fiddle, cello (the devil’s instrument!), dueling basses, percussion, duck, and the beast (bari sax)! Needless to say, there is the strong influence of many a well-spent hour watching cartoons here.
There is the fundamental trio driving this project in terms of compositional concept and long-standing working relationships. I have been making music with bassist Mario Pavone in a variety of contexts since 1980. He has also worked with Bill Dixon and Paul Bley, in addition to leading and recording with his own groups. He is a unique musician, largely self taught, artistically inspired and our musical lives have been intertwined through the years. Mario is the anchor of the group rhythmically and sonically, while the wit, humor and dialogue takes place between drums and saxophone on an almost telepathic level.
The TCT’s debut was in summer ’89 for a performance at the now-defunct Gas Station in the east-east village, New York City. The festival was curated by downtown music archivist Bruce Lee Gallantar (Listener par excellence!) and included Mario and drummer Pheeroan ak Laff. It was Bruce who then set up the first hit at the Knit—a double bill with John Zorn trio in December, ’89. One tune from that gig, “Insomnia,” found its way onto the pioneering series LIVE AT THE KNITTING FACTORY (VOLUME 3). This was Steve John’s first performance with us and he became our drummer for the next two years, appearing on our first two CD’s, THIRD FORCE and ANIMA.
In May-June ’91, the trio did its first tour of Europe on the Knitting Factory bus-and-traveling road show with three other groups—James Blood Ulmer, Gary Lucas and Samm Bennett, and has toured there every year since.
Drummer Mike Sarin makes his appearance in the fall of ’91, subbing on a few gigs and a few cuts of ANIMA, finally becoming a permanent member with our cross-country Knitting Factory USA marathon bus tour in Spring ’92. Back then his talents were a well-kept secret—now he’s the man in demand! He’s worked with such downtown luminaries as John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Ned Rothenberg, among many others.
As with Mario, Mike’s sound and sensibility combine with the other two empathically so as to create and define our very particular trio sound. To me this is not just a musical group, it’s a magic triangle, a generator! I feel truly blessed to have developed this kind of relationship with these two beautiful musicians.
In addition to our many tours, the trio has had the good fortune to appear at many of the major jazz festivals in Europe, Canada and Japan, as well as the Knitting Factory’s What Is Jazz? Festival in New York City and the JVC Jazz Festivals in New York City, Saratoga and Newport, Rhode Island. We were featured on the nationally televised Newport Jazz Festival ’95 program. (Hi Mom!)
I really like the idea of taking this core trio and combining it with another grouping of instruments (as on INSOMNIA—trio plus brass), in such a way that the essential character of the trio still shines through. I compose differently for the trio than I do for other situations, and carry this “trio mind” into composing for the larger projects.
We were extremely fortunate to have the virtuosic talent of Mark Feldman (violin). His help in directing the string activities was invaluable. Prior to his omni-presence on the new music/jazz scene (with the likes of John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Billy Hart, etc.), he was an active player in the country-and-western world of Nashville, Tennessee, so I couldn’t resist asking him for some fiddle on the hoe-down section of “Geek Gawkin’”!
Boris Rayskin (cello) is a Leningrad Conservatory of Music graduate who moved to New York in 1989, and, in addition to his orchestral gigs, has since been making his presence felt in the improvised music milieu. We had a lot of fun collaborating on various improvised music concerts so I really knew he would be a good fit with this group. He really shines, for instance, in the free space of “Bump in the Night,” in addition to his written melody feature in “Diva.”
I’ve known Kiyoto Fujiwara (bass) almost since coming to New York in ’81, and we have had great experiences (and fun!) on several Japan tours with his group. Kiyoto is a well-schooled (Julliard) and widely experienced musician, have performed traditional Japanese music, European classical and jazz (with Horace Silver, Clifford Jordan, Jaki Bayard, among others), as well as being a very talented composer and improviser in his own right. On this project, he expertly performs a variety of functions—as an alternative to the other bass or in unison with it, arco sections, group improvisations and in duet with Mario on “Geek Gawkin’.”
So, there you have it, as things stand at the moment. I wish you good listening!
BE, HEAR, NOW!
Thomas Chapin July, 1996
Jim Macnie, February 1997
Unlike many modernists, Chapin has the talent to craft riffs and combine ostinatos with enough aplomb to make them function as melodies. In several of these pieces there are themes, alternative themes and group improvs so well defined that they too assume the role of thematic motifs. Though in performance they take on an admirable pose, no one will confuse them with Tin Pan Alley lushness. The angles and animation of Raymond Scott as well as the prog-jazz outfit Curlew are more often conjured, especially on the arms akimbo bash “Geeks Gawkin’.” But the flow between the movements is undeniable. Though herky-jerky by definition (Chapin calls them “an energetic bundle of loose ends” in the liners), the highly limber aggregate keeps these pieces well-oiled. <i>Haywire</i> is an arranger’s record.
It also displays the breadth of Chapin’s compositional sense. “The Devil’s Hopyard,” which takes up the bulk of the disc, is a suite of sorts, actively welcoming amorphous, mercurial passages into territory that is rigorously defined. It’s here that Chapin’s versatility is most eloquent. Each of the five sections is distinct, and almost every one has a memorable personality. "Eidolon” and “Bump In The Night” are ominous, a salutation to ghosts. “Hoofin’” is much more corporeal; drummer Michael Sarin gives it a jaunty lilt. Later, the sax/bass/drums contingent fire shotgun blasts of sound into the middle of a sedate string trio section of "Bug Bears.” Their aim is precise, and the play is witty, enhancing the tension without resorting to clichéd swells of sound. As "At Peace With My Demons” brings up the rear, Chapin discloses a possible fascination with Erik Satie while the band glides with the elegance of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Though the ensemble work defines the disc, soloing has its significance. There’s an Arthur Blythe bitterness to Chapin’s alto tone, but it helps to bolster his power of expression, and he does spend a lot of time braying. On “Geek Gawkin'” he proves that he runs the bari, the bari doesn’t run him – there are plenty of woodwind players who lose the fight with the big horn. Along the way, Chapin references “Salt Peanuts” and a smidge of “Yackety Sax.” Like violinist Mark Feldman quoting Gershwin and Monk at opportune moments on “Hoofin’,” it adds a useful lightheartedness to the music.
The disposition that the band ultimately evokes has resonances of Henry Threadgill’s Sextet, circa Just The Facts And Pass The Bucket. That was in the early ‘80s, when the esthetic of freedom-swing dominated the liberal side of New York jazz. Chapin may have been working with Chico Hamilton or Lionel Hampton at the time, but he’s well-versed in the style’s vernacular. As the term implies, it’s about balancing elements that are sometimes seen as adversaries. Haywire makes a case for Chapin being an effective diplomat, sorting out the pros and cons of each side. Subsequently, he’s also a good candidate for a major-label jump. If you ever thought about getting on his trip, now’s the time.
George Lane, gmn.com
The incredible saxophonist/ flautist/ composer Thomas Chapin recorded a series of wonderfully creative and original recordings during his tragically short career. The spectacular Haywire was recorded live at the Knitting Factory in 1996 and in similar fashion to his outstanding Insomnia CD recorded three years earlier, the superlative longstanding Trio of Chapin on reeds and flutes, Mario Pavone on bass and Michael Sarin on percussion is augmented for this recording. Only this time rather than brass it’s a string trio of highly talented and sensitive players: Kiyoto Fujiwara on bass, Boris Rayskin on cello and Mark Feldman on violin. And, as with _Insomnia_, we’re reminded that Thomas was so much more than an extraordinary player of impeccable technique and total individualism who could effortlessly flow back and forth between avant-garde and straight-ahead with equal conviction and seamless continuity. Thomas was a visionary artist who will eventually be viewed as a member of the Pantheon of greats by future generations of musicians looking for inspiration. His composing and arranging skills are superb on every level, as this recording makes abundantly clear, especially on the wonderful five-movement suite “The Devil’s Hopyard”. a brilliant 37+ minute excursion into adventurous exploration and uncompromising musicality. With the exception of the beautiful “Diva” by Enrico Rava (and the only concession to the "plays for lovers" style as Thomas states in his revelatory liner notes), all of the sensational compositions and arrangements are by Chapin, covering all bases from beautifully sensual to dynamically explosive.
As always, Pavone and Sarin are flawless in their sensitive support and boundless creativity. Although Thomas is the primary featured soloist, there is the omnipresent sense of collective spirit that was always so essential to his music, raising everybody above supporting roles. Violinist Feldman offers excellent solos on “Haywire, Hoofin'“ and “Geek Gawkin’”, an amazing foray in texture and rhythm that features Thomas' roaring baritone sax.
For anyone who thinks great jazz art ended in the 70's, this CD will change your mind.
All albums previously released on Knitting Factory Records are now the sole property of and available through Akasha, Inc.
*included in Alive boxed set