Jen Chapin and Stephan Crump

CD Review: Open Wide

Many artists talk about stripping down their music, making it "real". Countless media kits and press releases dare listeners to define an artist's sound, or proclaim how it is different from anything else out there. On their latest release, their first as a duo, Jen Chapin and Stephan Crump have successfully recorded something truly different and taken a risk by putting a truly laid-bare sound out there for the listener to experience.

"Open Wide" features Chapin's original music, which she normally performs with her full backing band. For this experience, the songs have been recorded in their "naked" state, with Chapin's voice accompanied only by Crump's acoustic stand-up bass. The result is a vibe that captures the feel and sensuality of a comfortable, smoky jazz club, where the drinks are served with just the right amount of chill and the flickering candles adorning each table cast off the perfect balance of light and heat.

"Open Wide" includes ten tracks, including favorites such as the title track, "Gold" and "Hurry Up Sky". "Open Wide", the only song on the disc specifically written for duo, according to Chapin, is an especially vivid use of the bass line to support her voice. Reading along with the lyrics, thankfully included on the CD jacket, takes the listener into a world described as "urban folk", populated by characters dealing with life in the big city. They struggle with the shadows that sometimes obscure the reasons things happen as they do, but are energized by the continued possibilities those mysteries present.

Chapin's band has been a popular attraction around her home base of New York City (she writes a bittersweet love letter to the city in her song "NYC") and the duo has recently taken their show on the road. Their time performing together (they've been together professionally, and later personally, since late 1998) is obvious in the tightness of the tracks throughout the record. With a single instrument playing off Chapin's voice, the potential exists for one to overpower the other, or for uncomfortable holes to appear within the interplay between both sounds. Neither of these problems ever reveal themselves, and both instruments react to each other perfectly, taking the lead or stepping aside for the other with ease, flowing smoothly from role to role.

The success of the recording is largely the result of the interplay between Chapin and Crump. "We had been developing the duo for a while", said Chapin in a recent interview for "The Stone Pony Online Newsletter". "The bass lines were the product of an evolution of - in some cases - several years." The bass is an equal partner on this record, an unusual position for an instrument usually considered a supporting piece. In addition to his work with Chapin, and his own solo work, Crump has performed with countless other musicians, and is part of the Mahavishnu Project, the Voodoo Down Orchestra and the Weimarband. A solid foundation in the fundamentals of jazz, as well as the ability to improvise and challenge the rules of his instrument, are evident in Crump's skill during this recording. Anyone learning to play the bass, or experienced players looking for a new take on their instrument, should pick up a copy, even if their tastes are not geared towards jazz.

"Having just the two of us gives a chance to really explore the interplay between two "voices" and it really highlights the lyrics and the structure of the songs," said Chapin. "In the duo, there's nowhere to hide, so it's an ass-kicker. I've learned a lot about singing from doing it, as Stephan has about his instrument."

"Open Wide," published by Purple Chair Music, is available through Chapin's web site, at, or Crump's, at

Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.