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Borah Bergman/Thomas Chapin: Toronto 1997

In the company of his longstanding trio, multireedist Thomas Chapin built a reputation for searching, edgy music that could also be surprisingly soulful and accessible. Nothing like turning up with a player as volcanic as pianist Borah Bergman to deconstruct that notion, even if it’s just for the duration of a single recording. Toronto 1997 (Boxholder) catches an ailing Chapin (who suffered from Leukemia and would not live more than a few months more) and Bergman playing live at the Du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival. The intense, volatile music the two create is definitely not for neophytes.

Bergman’s great handfuls of notes, obdurately and forcefully struck, can be suffocating, and Chapin responds with a scarred and raw tone. When confronted with Bergman’s puncturing, impossibly thick clusters of notes, horn players must be tempted to play every possible note at once. At times, Chapin offers only cycles of notes or even single intervals repeated over and over. This is not at all to say that there is no break in the storm. Bergman, perhaps mindful of Chapin’s health, also proves to be a sensitive partner. The pianist does defer to Chapin (though not for too long at a stretch), finding his own expansive way to either emulate the reedist’s lines or support them. And Chapin, for his part, somehow retains much of the warmth that made recordings under his own name so inviting.

Originally Published