Misako Kano

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Most jazz fans probably don't understand how great a loss the 1998 death of alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin was. At the time, Chapin was just beginning to gain attention outside the ghetto-ish confines of the downtown New York scene. Chapin might well have enjoyed a career similar to the one trumpeter Dave Douglas has carved out for himself -- both musicians make the kind of challenging yet accessible jazz that attracts listeners who might not ordinarily be interested in hardcore experimental styles. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for Chapin; he died of leukemia at the age of 40. Luckily, listeners have recordings like this as reminders of how fine a player he was. While Kano is unquestionably the leader on this date -- she wrote most of the tunes and in general provides the music's direction -- Chapin is the star. Kano provided the altoist with the type of contexts in which he thrived: knotty melodies and loose harmonies with an explicit swing and groove component. Chapin combined a raspy, Cannonball-esque tone with a flexible inside/outside sense of phrasing and harmony. His intensity was remarkable, as was the depth of his imagination. Few improvisers have a more spontaneous feel to their playing. Kano is a fine player, as well. Leftward leaning, she tends to carve out free-ish spaces for her own solo showcases. Her unaccompanied performance to close the album is equal parts Dave Brubeck, Erik Satie, and Keith Jarrett -- a strong, lovely statement. The rhythm section of bassist Kiyoto Fujiwara and Matt Wilson supports the two soloists in fine fashion. Not a classic album by any means, but enjoyable. And quite valuable to anyone who highly values the playing of Thomas Chapin.

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