Sky Piece



Track Listing

  1. Sky Piece 6:12

  2. Bypass 8:26

  3. Just Now 3:02

  4. Alphaville 8:32

  5. Night Bird Song 10:57

  6. Triptych 3:22

  7. Ask Me Now (T. Monk) 8:03

  8. Don't Mind If I Do 5:26

  9. Changes 2 Tyres 3:26

  10. Essaouira 6:26

  11. And... 1:04

Recording Information

  • Thomas Chapin: alto and sopranino saxophones, flute, bass flute, pinkullo (woodenflute), bells, whistles, alarm clock

  • Mario Pavone: bass

  • Michael Sarin: drums, percussion

All compositions by Thomas Chapin © Peace Park Publishing/BMI, except “Ask Me Now” by Theolonious Monk © Theolonious Music Corp./BMI.

Recorded July 1996 by Robert Musso at Quad Studios.

Editing and mastering by Tom Ruff at Sony Music Studios.

Album cover photo by Thomas Chapin in Namibia (SW Africa)

Design by Dave Bias

Special thanks to Sam Kaufman for facilitating this and other projects through difficult times, and to Robert Musso for production assistant, as well as his incredible recording expertise.

May God bless my family, friends and fans for they have truly blessed my life through their love and generosity. I love you all.

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

Liner Notes

by John Hohman

"Sky Piece

So much sky
in the space of desert
my soul rises
from a mournful Earth
into a clarity
above Time.

While Time is
it is best to be
in both worlds
as the bridge.”

--Thomas Chapin

Thomas Chapin’s sense of time emerges with the energy, adventure and subtle knowing that characterize his musical sensibility. It embraces a deeply collaborative yet individualized spirit steeped in a perfection of time; what has led the man and his music to now and what can be.

“Sky Piece” comes forth from that particular universe, part of a moment of realized aspirations; satisfaction with a level of performance and composition that simultaneously leads to new challenges and directions. That yearning to move forward can be detected in the title track. We envision a sky in motion, Chapin’s rueful bass-flute melody greeting Mario Pavone’s insistent bass line. Like the sky, Chapin gathers velocity.

Wherever he is, Chapin makes the most of time, especially of those quiet moments when nature, spirit and the beauty of circumstance combine to inspire music. In February, 1996 Chapin was enthralled when he visited a Moroccan coastal town, which became the name of his composition “Essaouira.” It’s pronounciation, Ess-ah-wee-ra, seems to surface in this sparsely exotic form of incantation. The tune came to him at four-thirty in the morning as he meditated atop his hotel roof in an open courtyard overlooking the sea. “It seemed the still, star-domed sky held a deep presence, perhaps many--” Chapin recalled.

An after-midnight nature walk several summers before, this time in suburban Connecticut, inspired “Night Bird Song.” The sky was again still, but pitch black. “I heard a marvelous bird singing in a tree. It sang for about twenty minutes, never repeating its phrases, improvising away as I stood motionless, just out of the beam of the street light.” This haunting composition was conceived around a bass line that Pavone had previously written and to which Chapin added a melody, overall structure and improvisational vamp with a flamenco rhythm. It has been played by the trio for years, and is now considered one of their signature pieces.

“Triptych” is a testimony to what the Thomas Chapin Trio can do as pure improvisers. Real time and spontaneity are to be heard in this three-minute and twenty-two second, three-part extemporization by Chapin, Pavone and drummer, Michael Sarin. (For the record, Pavone and Sarin’s long-time collaboration with Chapin, now going on seven years, has yielded some remarkable music and “Sky Piece” finds them at the height of their communicative and musical prowess.)

Part one opens with a jabbing, flippant bass and saxophone dialogue placed upon an edgy percussive landscape. In the second, the saxophone and bass are languid, prowling and intermittently prodded by the chameleonic percussion. In the last, the trio’s intensive high-wire digging-in is sure evidence of fleeting moments well spent.

Listen closely, very closely, to “Just Now.” Chapin plays a wooden flute and incorporates a clock, a “Little Ben.” The melody reigns but our perception of it is nonetheless altered by the ticking constancy of time. More aggressive is the ringing alarm of this clock in “Alphaville,” awakening us to the concerns evoked in and beyond this allusion to the Godard science fiction classic. Chapin is using time, or more specifically its implements, to help convey, as he says, “a kind of paranoiac dreamlike state as evoked by Dali’s melted watches.”

Monk’s “Ask Me Now” comes as a pause that is refreshing to Chapin as both composer and performer. He pays his respects to Monk’s harmonies and provides his own invigorating melodic invention. Jazz history permeates Chapin’s sense of time, but his references produce new information and he never plays in the past. We are reminded of Chapin’s innate inclusive aesthetic. In fact, Jazziz magazine writer, Chris Kelsey, reviewing Chapin’s August, 1997 performance at the Knitting Factory, commented “If New York’s downtown jazz experimentalists ever decide to appoint a missionary to proselytize among the uptown traditionalist masses, they’d be wise to choose Thomas Chapin…arguably the most complete straight-ahead jazz saxophonists of his generation.”

The photographs that accompany Sky Piece were taken by Chapin in Namibia during a trip to southwest Africa in March, 1993. They capture a time of interior exploration while he visited a relatively isolated place on a continent that has deeply fascinated him since childhood. Interestingly, these photographs reflect the dynamics of a trio—silhouettes of three figures inside a great stone arch in the desert, three pelicans perched on a rooftop in a fishing village, and an elegant triangular skeleton of an old railroad sign in the desert just outside of town.

As we listen to the Thomas Chapin Trio we can begin to view the photographs as mental images of the influences and inspirations that imbue Chapin’s work. In the future we can be sure that whatever form these images take, they will hearken back to certain roots and leap forward in vibrant and original expression. In the meantime, we have Sky Piece to savor and in doing so, move our own time a little closer to a perfection.

John Hohmann was one of the producers of “In Harmony,” the fall, 1997 concert held in New York featuring musicians who currently play and have played with Chapin.


George Lane

Alto saxophonist/flautist Thomas Chapin's Trio created music that proved that the rich musical elements of 60's jazz could be extended into the 90's without merely being nostalgic mimicry. His music is deeply rooted in the exploration and urgency that characterized that period, yet it is clearly fresh, contemporary and unquestionably NEW.

Although Thomas is no longer with us, we are fortunate to have a plethora of recorded delights, of which Sky Piece is the final studio recording of this spectacular trio (and more fortunately I understand that there are a good deal of high quality unissued live recordings in his estate).

Recorded in 1996, six years into the trio's 7-year span, this fantastic CD also provides indisputable evidence to the value of maintaining a consistent ensemble. Bassist Mario Pavone and percussionist Michael Sarin, both extraordinary musicians on their own, join with Thomas to create a synergy that can only come through a mutual dedication of commitment, passion and virtuosity combined with the time necessary to allow the ensemble to develop its own personality and character.

We are all blessed that these three superb artists made that commitment. As is always the case, "rhythm" instruments seem subordinate to the lead voice, especially one as powerful as Thomas. But the experienced listener knows how much equality exists, and it's in evidence here throughout.

All that aside, however, Thomas Chapin is a great musician, who will, I believe, achieve only more respect and recognition as time goes on, much like Eric Dolphy, who also left us at his creative apex. But he is also a product of his time, influenced by many factors and cultures. His flute playing invokes Japanese shakuhachi, Navajo flute, Pygmy whistle, etc. on the beautiful, exotic "Sky Piece," "Essaovira," and "Just Now," along with Roland Kirk and Sam Rivers on the up-tempo "Don't Mind If I Do." His alto simply explodes, whether swinging mightily or squawking percussively, every solo smokes. Incredible original compositions, especially "Alphaville," his evocative tribute to Godard, and a great version of Monk's "Ask Me Now" that joyously explore the tune's bluesy raunchiness are even more reasons to grab this monstrous CD.

Jim Macnie - Jazziz, July 1998

Few among us aren't impressed with a genuine renaissance man, but sometimes diversity can be a stumbling block to a music career. Audiences cherish focus. It aids in the assignment of identity, a crucial task for a modern culture clogged with fleeting characters. Those who wield numerous skills – no matter how tantalizing or accomplished – run the risk of confusing the crowd.

Some have suggested that Thomas Chapin was wounded by his manifold interests. Indeed, the shifts he made were numerous enough to make him seem dedicated to deviation. The multi-instrumentalist romped through open territories, arranged precise music for strings and horn sections, interpreted dusty country-and-western standards, and wrote extended paeans to nature. He blew romantic. He blew ornery. He blew joyous. He blew blue.

If general audiences were befuddled by Chapin's versatility, it's their loss. A virtuosic instrumentalist and resourceful composer, his scope was the consequence of being smitten with jazz's big picture, and it italicized the optimism his music steadily expressed. If you listened close enough, you could usually hear the sanguine ties that married even his most far-flung ideas. The saxophonist investigated synergy, not disparity.

For those uncertain of Chapin's ability to connect the dots, Sky Piece should be a revelation. He has never sounded as convincing as he does on this mercurial trio date. The world needs mediators – those who can turn a debate into a dialogue. As those discrete tunes flaunt their idiosyncrasies, Chapin contours the quirks with a sculptor's eye. His most graceful record ever, Sky Piece is about creating hues, controlling momentum, and exercising authority over ideas in flux.

Execution remains a bugaboo for some ambitious musicians – ideas are occasionally more advanced than skills. Chapin took care of that by connecting with bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin. They worked together for the last seven years, and as Sky Piece proves, their accord could be arresting. Instantaneous shifts of tempo, exceptional agreement in the formation of texture – this is a team that prances gracefully like Steve McCall, Fred Hopkins, and Henry Threadgill did in Air, and that effects provocative deliberations with the poise of Miniature's Tim Berne, Hank Roberts, and Joey Baron.

Sky Piece teems with tough musical assignments, but precision and empathy are always at work. The stagger-step head of "Bypass" implies funk without employing the style's touchstones. Sarin and Pavone squeeze ghost beats out of their syncopation before embarking to a weightless zone. Before the piece concludes, the band has run headlong into some groove-dominated sputter, suggesting strongly that nervy chatter can have an impact equal to grand oratory. Sometimes what sounds extemporaneous is actually sharply calibrated. The hyper "Alphaville" is partially built on the leader's fragmented phrases. As they dart around Pavone's bass lines they form a melody that seems elusive until repetition substantiates its logic.

Chapin's saxophone abilities have grown with each passing year. Early outings found him interested in the animation of a flagrant attack; on 1993's I've Got Your Number, he proved that polish was also part of his vernacular. Sky Piece consolidates those approaches, applying his virtuosity in a self-deprecating manner. Like an Etch-a-Sketch master moving from right angles to perfect curves, he blends mainstream and downtown lingo with aplomb.

There's lots of flute on the disc, and it helps strike a balance between the restlessness and serenity that fascinated the composer. Chapin's 1993 trek to Namibia was as much inspiration as balm, and Sky Piece benefits from both its natural eloquence and thoughtful sense of daring. "Just Now" actually uses a wooden flute; the song's wistful tone is bolstered by the instrument. Ditto for the bass flute that defines the record's title track. A gifted colorist, Chapin was choosy about his use of timbres.

Some musicians work and work and never get their ducks in a row. Chapin's ambitious nature nudged him in all sorts of directions, perhaps muddying the waters a bit for his listeners. But the clarity found on Sky Piece is unmistakable. Here is the breakthrough that he sought. Here is the consummate fluency and focus supporters always knew he had in him. There's orthodox beauty all over this record. And there's stimulating abstraction, too. The oft-forgotten affinity between the two is vibrantly invoked. Maybe that's why the feeling of satori is so strong. And maybe that's why jazz will miss Thomas Chapin.