Recorded in 1992, Night Bird Song remained in the can for seven years before Knitting Factory released it in 1999. Thomas Chapin had met an untimely death from leukemia in February 1998 (he was only 40), and this posthumous release was greeted with great enthusiasm by those who were hip to the saxman/flutist's music.
It's regrettable that this avant-garde/post-bop recording went unreleased for so long, for Chapin's trio (which included bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin) is inspired, unpredictable, and cohesive throughout the album. Sticking to his own compositions, Chapin favors an inside/outside approach and fluctuates between moments of quiet, AACM-influenced reflection and intensely emotional playing. Chapin's pieces tend to be cerebral and angular and don't go out of their way to be accessible, but they're well worth exploring because the expressive improviser had a lot to say. Whether he's playing the alto sax, sopranino sax, flute, or alto flute, Chapin's restless spirit serves him well throughout Night Bird Song.
Baden Powell, a renowned guitarist in a nation of guitarists, here plays both solo and in trio, and which you prefer will depend on whether you more value rhapsodic freedom or focused tightness. Either way this is a celebrated recording by a phenomenal artist, and long unavailable.
This is one of Mother Gong's strongest and most representative efforts, albeit a little late in the group's classic period. The lineup includes Robert Calvert (saxes), Conrad Henderson (bass), and Robert George (drums and percussion), in addition to the nucleus of Gilli Smyth and Harry Williamson. Recorded in part during Mother Gong's 1991 tour of America and in part in an Australian studio, Tree in Fish offers a good balance of space poetry and groovy instrumentals. Smyth's effect-drenched voice takes center stage, but the musicians are left ample room to breathe. "Wilful Housewife" and "The House Is Not the Same" (the latter with brilliant lyrics by Henry Normal) remain among her best performances from that era. This album's strength resides in its free-flowing, spontaneous-sounding track list hiding carefully scored tunes. Tracks like "She Smiled" and "Cafe Reflections" keep things ethereal and improvised, framing more precise songs into a single album context -- a feature that is lacking on the group's other records.