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Thomas Chapin: Never Let Me Go: Quartets ’95 & ’96

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To get a handle on the musical scope of Thomas Chapin, look no further than the second CD of this three-disc set. Taken from a 1995 live performance, it begins with Thelonious Monk’s rare waltz “Ugly Beauty,” followed by Charlie Parker’s equally deep cut “Red Cross” (which lasts over 15 fun-filled minutes), into the Glen Campbell pop hit “Wichita Lineman.” The late alto saxophonist approaches each song with the same degree of seriousness, whether caressing the ballad, honking out an unaccompanied postbop intro or shedding some deserved light on what might be written off as middle-of-the-road fluff.

Jazz history has more than its fair share of gifted artists who died too young, but Chapin’s bio hits harder. A regular at the Knitting Factory club and on its companion label, Chapin, on alto and flute, dabbled in avant-garde situations but often stuck with a more aggressive version of straight-ahead jazz. Diagnosed with leukemia, he died at age 40 in 1998, well into a career that was catching fire and about to advance, as these recordings show. All three of these discs feature him with a quartet, a new setting after leading trios for many years.

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