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Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of Never Let Me Go, a three-disc compilation of two performances by Thomas Chapin‘s nascent quartet (with Peter Madsen on piano, Kiyoto Fujiwara [’95] or Scott Colley [’96] on bass, and Reggie Nicholson [’95] or Matt Wilson [’96] on drums), a recording of some of Chapin’s last concert appearances before his illness the following year and his death in 1998. The recordings are good, and seemed to have been clarified and cleaned up a little; the first two discs, sets from Flushing Town Hall in NYC in November 1995, are reminiscent acoustically of a high-end bootleg: the music is present and immediate, but there are still a few recalcitrant rough edges. The piano, for instance, sounds a bit rubbery, like a poorly tuned upright. Not that I’m complaining: I think the sound suits the vital exuberance of the playing all round, its ardent velocities. (In fact, on the better recorded Knitting Factory gig, the upper register of the club piano is also pretty detuned, but Madsen makes a virtue of necessity, on “Whirlygig” for example, producing metallic percussive textures as if this were a “prepared” instrument.) This quartet as I understand it was a new and evolving formation for Chapin; principal reference points for this music include post-Coltrane hard bop — Madsen’s left hand plumbs the lower registers and jabs at chord substitutions much like late-60s McCoy Tyner, and also Jaki Byatd — but the group also takes up Chapin originals, some penned for his long-standing trio. (I really like their version of his “Sky Piece,” with a terrific solo intro by Colley.) Chapin’s alto seems at times to find its lineage from Charlie Parker sieving through Eric Dolphy, maybe with a touch of Lou Donaldson, but his most obvious influence here, if influence is the right word, is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Like Rahsaan, Chapin is a virtuoso of excess: he never has anything short of too much to say, too many more notes to play. His improvisations are flush with as much music as he manage, and his saxophone tone is reedy, robust and fully blown. He enacts extemporaneously, in track after track, what Giorgio Agamben variously calls resto, excess, remainder, outside, the open–a kinetic space of vital negotiation between animal Eros and creative will, aisthesis and aesthetics, feeling and making, body and soul. In a word, his sound strives to express. The quartet’s version of Rahsaan’s “lovellevellilloqui ” (originally from The Inflated Tear) both re-enacts and bears witness to, as a now-posthumous recording, what made and makes Thomas Chapin’s music so important to hear: its virtuosity of abundance, its intensely sounded love.