The pianist and former organist known as "Sir" Charles Thompson can claim legendary associations: He played with Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, and, on his first record date as a leader, his sidemen included Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon.
Thursday evening Thompson opened at the Loa in Santa Monica as a soloist, backed by Larry Gales on bass and Kenny Dennis on drums. What was offered during his first show was essentially a slice of that era relived, in terms of both performance and repertoire. The latter consisted entirely of compositions ranging in age from 40 to 60 years.
Thompson's center of gravity is slightly pre-bop, with flashes of Count Basie (he recently subbed for two weeks in the Basie orchestra) added to bursts of Earl Hines exuberance and occasional hints of Teddy Wilson elegance.
It was during a salute to Wilson that his harmonic feeling came into focus: "Some Other Spring," a perennially attractive melody written by Wilson's wife, enabled Thompson to move beyond the shackles of convention that bound him during his rather literal interpretations of "Star Dust" and "Mood Indigo." He would be well advised to find some more (and perhaps fresher) works, in which he can stress the inherent chordal value.
Larry Gales has been praised here often as a bassist of ability and agility, in solo and supportive roles alike; however, the rhythm section as a whole seemed to need more impetus than was usually in evidence on this occasion.
The trio closes Sunday.