Tom Chapin is developing a real persona as a musician and composer, no matter which of his horns he picks up or what setting he devises for them. He writes from within, tells stories, and takes us along. On Live at the Knitting Factory, with his well-established trio-bassist Mario Pavone (1980) and drummer Mike Sarin (1991)-and a string trio (Mark Feldman, violin; Boris Rayksin, cello; Kiyoto Fujiwara, bass), Chapin conjures up some of the goofy, slightly scary Maurice Sendak-like critters lurking in his psyche and lets them raise a little hell. Chapin creates, then exorcises, a panoply of personal demons on one of his storytellin' suites, "The Devil's Hopyard," 38 minutes based on a creepy night visit to a park in Connecticut that's probably perfectly normal by day.
Thus he can caterwaul Kirk-wise through his flute ("Hoofin'") and yawp and greench on his alto ("Bugbears") and not only get away with it, but win over listeners to his personal "avant garde" by telling his wacky musical tales. He gets great support from the strings-grave sustains, hair-raising harmonics, and Bartokian monster glissandi on "Bugbears," popping pizzicati on "Eidolon." His trio and he think as a unit, as they create momentum on "At Peace With My Demons," urge forward "Haywire," and accelerate "Geek Gawkin'." As far out as they get, Chapin's bands and his tales always seem to hang together.
Chapin plays like Chapin elsewhere, too. His bumptious baritone rocks and reels on "Geek Gawkin'" (with Mark Feldman's freaky hoedown) and his suave mezzo-soprano sax sounds eerily like a lead viola on "Diva," the only non-original, a voluptuous, memorable waltz by Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava.