Roland Park Jazz
THE MOVIE: Think of this DVD from local saxophonist as a digital throwback to 1980s cassette releases. LSQ is a strictly low-tech affair that contains a different world. Thompkins played a John Coltrane tribute Sept.23, 2004, at Xando Coffee and Bar with a performance of 1964’s A Love Supreme featuring pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, drummer Scott Tiemann, and bassist Donnie West. A single camera was set up snugly framing the band in its square viewfinder; audience members walk back and forth across the screen throughout. It’s a little muddy and yellow, the way video looks when lit by nothing but incandescent lights. And the recording itself is a tad rough, probably due to a single microphone catching everything being thrown at it.
But, oh, what it does catch. LSQ isn’t simply a Supreme recreation, it’s more an interpretation of it by four musicians who know it well and love it each in his own way. It’s easy to forget that Coltrane himself was a big man, and he played music that needed a big guy who could push a big amount of wind into a big tenor saxophone. Standing in those shoes is tough, and Thompkins meets the challenge fearlessly, laying into four of the most recognizable notes in all of jazz, those that form the central motif of “Acknowledgement,” with a leveling force. And if he doesn’t hit Coltrane’s solo stratosphere planes on Supreme—which is, honestly, an unfair benchmark—he does deliver a series of muscular, lyrical ideas throughout this set.
Unsurprisingly, LSQ’s star is Gilchrist, who doesn’t so much try to inhabit Coltrane sideman McCoy Tyner as make Tyner’s piano space his own. Gilchrist opens the night with an impassioned, ebullient intro to “Acknowledgement,” and his solos are, as expected, the wittiest, most lively, and floridly moving (another unfair comparison, as the recording quality doesn’t capture the full richness of West’s bass or Tiemann’s drums). Call it heresy if you must, but Tyner’s A game versus Gilchrist’s best is just too close to call, though the idea of that cutting contest thrills the soul.
The evening’s true troopers, though, are West and Tiemann. Not only are their solos poorly served by the recording, they’ve got the hardest roles to fill. The Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones rhythm section of Coltrane’s classic quartet was tight and sympathetic enough to go wherever their leader went. West and Tiemann not only keep pace with, but also anticipate Thompkins’ and Gilchrist’s every adventure with lithe responsiveness.