A Groove Supreme

Jazz standardsFifty years ago, just about this time of the year, John Coltrane?s signature album A Love Supreme was released and marked an unforgettable cultural date on our calendar.? Tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence and his quartet recalled?and to a great extent?reclaimed that historic moment with segments of that classic recording this week at the Jazz Standard in lower Manhattan.

Lawrence is a powerful force and, in almost volcanic fashion, he summoned that familiar melodic line in a chant-like mode, with bassist Reggie Workman?one of the few remaining alumnus of Trane?s several bands?emphasizing the tune?s ostinato beat, while drummer Jeff Tain Watts measured his entry against Benito Gonzalez?s heavy chords.

By the time they reached ?Acknowledgment? with its increasing intensity, the group was in full propulsion, and Lawrence soared beyond any imitation of Trane to insert his own interpretation on this lyrical portion of the spiritual.? When he and Watts exchanged phrases it was easy to remember the tandem tantrum of Trane and Elvin Jones.? And the memory was given an additional glow, if not energy, by Gonzalez?s modalities, all reminiscent of McCoy Tyner.

Each member had an extended solo, and the sum of their parts came together in a dynamic conclusion with Watts driving them in relentless bashing, his thunder coaxing them to that triumphant coda.?

After more than a half hour of invoking A Love Supreme, the band switched gears, slowed the tempo, and settled beautifully into Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh?s ?Say It (Over and OverAgain),? again the specter of Trane hovered over Lawrence?s horn and he cast a similar spell, giving the melody an extra texture of romanticism.????

But in an evening devoted to the music of John Coltrane ?My Favorite Things? was inevitable, and in keeping with his homage to the great musician, Lawrence rendered this evergreen on soprano saxophone.? Once more the ghost of Trane appeared for a second or two before being morphed into Lawrence?s version.?? And again it was an opportunity for the rhythm section to shine with Workman firming up the tune?s bottom, while Gonzalez?s hypnotic pulse matched Watts?s hustle across the skins.

There?s a movie making the rounds nowadays called ?The Imitation Game? about the late cryptanalyst Alan Turing and based on a portion of his life before his death at forty-one.? Trane was forty when liver cancer took him from us.? According to the reviews the director omits huge chunks of Turning?s life, and Lawrence and his crew had even less time and space to capture the essence of Trane?s A Love Supreme.?
Even so, it was a rapturous experience and, short of listening to the classic album, this is about as close as we?ll get to a living semblance of what Trane, Jones, Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison etched that day fifty years ago.? It was a groove supreme!