Thomas Chapin Trio Plus Strings Haywire




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.

Jim Macnie

*All albums previously released on Knitting Factory Records are now the sole property of and available through Akasha, Inc.

Versatility is the ticket to many destinations, and as far as jazz travelers go, Thomas Chapin has a slew of possible arrival points.  Instrumentally, he plays alto, flute, bari and soprano; stylistically he blows with grace, even while choosing to grunt, which is often.  OK, it’s not exactly a unique esthetic these days.  But the way Chapin works the combo – that is, the manner in which he merges these elements – has reached a zenith on this live Knitting Factory date.  The wire of the record’s title are the strings added to the gig.  The hay is what’s made while the sextet romps through the whirling, extremely fertile landscape that the bandleader concocts for them.<p>