|September 25, 2012To: Listings/Critics/Features
From: Jazz Promo Services
Press Contact: Jim Eigo, firstname.lastname@example.org
|Greg Lewis – Organ Monk
photo by John Abbott+
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New CDGreg Lewis – Organ Monk: Uwo In the Black
Greg Lewis-Hammond Organ
Greg Lewis,Organ Monk Upcoming Appearances
Organ Monk with Sweet Georgia Brown at the Lenox Lounge September 25, 8pm to 12 midnight
Organ Monk with Regggie Woods at Club Sapphire NYC, September 26, 8pm to 11pm
Organ Monk with Sweet Georgia Brown at the 55 Bar September 29, 10pm to 1:30am
October 2,9,16,23,30 Organ Monk with Reggie Woods at Sapphire New York 8pm
October 3,10,17,24,31, Organ Monk with Sweet Georgia Brown at the Lenox Lounge 8pm
October 6, Organ Monk with TK Blue at Sista’s Place 9pm
October 11, Organ Monk Trio at Showman’s Harlem 8:30pm
October 20, Organ Monk with Sweet Georgia Brown at the 55 Bar 10pm
October 21, Organ Monk Trio at the Garage Restaurant & Cafe 11:30 pm
Read the NY Times Review by Ben Ratliff
Thelonious Monk’s sense of harmony was so fresh and savory that it would be nice to have individual moments of it frozen, expanded and prolonged, just to let the sounds get deeper in the ear, to let those mixed colors intensify and explode. One could do it digitally, feeding Monk’s music through the right tools, but an organ player can do it in real time by keeping the keys pressed down. The New York-area organist Greg Lewis has made a recent project out of transferring Thelonious Monk’s repertory to the Hammond C3 organ. He plays in a quartet with tenor saxophone, guitar and drums. Two years ago he released “Organ Monk” on his own label, with Cindy Blackman on drums. Part 2 of the idea, called “Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black,” with Nasheet Waits on drums instead, has just come out. It’s a feast. This has been done before. Mr. Lewis likes Larry Young, the organist who pushed against the standard clichés of jazz organ playing in the 1960s and ’70s, and the spirit of both these albums might have come out of a version of “Monk’s Dream” from Young’s 1965 album “Unity.” But it hasn’t been done a lot, and Mr. Lewis floods the music with swing and volume-pedal ministrations. The best are the Monk ballads “Ugly Beauty” and “Crepuscule With Nellie”: slow and distorted, filthy and graceful.
The second outing by Greg Lewis,Organ Monk: Uwo In the Black, builds upon the success of the first call New York keyboardist’s critically acclaimed debut date Organ Monk. Volume Two of a proposed trilogy of discs (uwo signifies the number two in North African Nubian dialect) exploring the music of Thelonious Monk, Lewis expands upon his original concept here, adding the tenor saxophone of Reginald Woods to the powerful mix supplied by his Hammond C3 organ, the guitar of regular bandmate Ron Jackson and drums of longtime colleague Nasheet Waits (sitting in the seat previously occupied by Cindy Blackman-Santana), while filling out the program of ten Monk melodies with four of his own inspired compositions.
Well schooled at the piano, having studied with the likes of Mingus pianist Jaki Byard and one time Miles Davis sideman Gil Coggins, (the former bestowed the sobriquet “Thelonious Hunk” upon him for his encyclopedic knowledge of the iconic composer’s songbook, while the latter was responsible for the young keyboardist’s first professional gig at the organ), Lewis is self taught at the Hammond, having studied its expansive potential with monk-like devotion. Initially inspired by modernists Larry Young and Jimmy Smith, his influences also include funkmeisters Sly Stone and Tower of Power’s Roger Smith, as well as the pioneering sounds of Fats Waller and numerous church organists he heard growing up in the borough of Queen’s gospel drenched AfroAmerican community, melding these myriad models into a distinctively diversified style well suited to interpreting Monk’s idiosyncratic compositions.
Uwo In The Blackopens with Lewis’s swinging arrangement of Little Rootie Tootie, Monk’s dedication to his then infant son, future drummer Toot aka T. S. Monk. Utilizing the full force of the quartet, the organist pulls out all the stops to begin this unique take on the classic jazz “train song” witha hard blowing long toned solo organ introduction, followed his staccato enunciation of the jagged melody. Jackson’s fleet guitar opens the solo sequence, followed by Wood’s gruff old school tenor, before Lewis stretches out with a lyrical improvisation, driven by Waits’ propulsive drumming. The organist and his band’s meticulous control of dynamics is panoramically displayed as subtle variations in volume and tempo add to the piece’s dramatis.
Lewis’s own considerable compositional capabilities are revealed to great effect on his In The Black, aka My Nephew. Again showcasing the quartet’s dynamic range, this stirring dirge, somewhat reminiscent of the moving Mingus memorial Goodbye Porkpie Hat, evolves “gradually from a hush to a roar” in the words of esteemed album annotator Howard Mandel. The composer’s experience as organist at Brooklyn’s Calvary A.M.E. Church can be heard in the evocative emotional expanse in this utterly moving piece that variously expresses sorrow, joy, , anguish and finally peace, with Wood’s brawny voicelike tenor sharing the spotlight with Lewis’s organ.
Returning to the Monk repertory, Lewis revives two seldom heard pieces Humph and Skippy, both recorded only once by the composer (the former in 1947 on his debut Blue Note date, the latter in 1952 for Prestige) and rarely heard since. The former, a swinging medium uptempo bop line features Wood harmonizing the melody then soloing with old school aplomb reminiscent of Monk tenor men Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse, followed by Lewis who burns over the firestorm drumming of Waits. The latter, written by Monk for his sister, is arranged by Lewis, opening with a kaleidoscopic introduction taken from the original version’s coda. This uptempo tour de force combines the fleet keyboarding of the leader with Jackson’s flowing guitar lines and the relentlessly driving drumming of Waits.
The influence of Monk the composer on Lewis the songwriter can be clearly heard on the latter’s Zion’s Walk, the date’s newest piece, written by the organist for his youngest son. The duet with Waits testifies to the rapport between the two over a two decade long association. With neither guitar nor tenor in the mix, Lewis’s command of his instrument’s pedals to enunciate clear swinging bass lines becomes even more obvious, along with Waits mastery of the very specific, almost lost art of organ drumming. Jackson joins the pair on another Lewis original, GCP, named for the Queens, New York, Grand Central Parkway, where the song first came to the composer. A memorable melody, likely to leave even the casual listener humming its catchy line, the trio swings it straight ahead with the kind of jazzified joyousness associated with their live gigs.
Woods replaces Jackson for Stuffy Turkey, one of Monk’s most soulful pieces. Tenor and organ tackle the melody together doubling and alternating phrases at a relaxed tempo that allows the listener to savor each of their sounds. With Wood soloing funkily first, followed by Lewis, the trio gradually brightens the tempo to a loping gambol. The mood builds on Bright Mississippi, with Jackson joining the fray. The guitarist reveals a deep affection for the broad toned sound of the great Kenny Burrell on one of his finest solos of the date, as the full quartet stretches out on Monk’s clever reinvention of the warhorse Sweet Georgia Brown, with Lewis showing off his authoritative command of the Hammond’s wideranging tonal possibilities.
Theloniousis another duo outing by Lewis and Waits, an easy swinging excursion that finds the drummer alternately anchoring and launching his partner’s creative improvisation with a variety of drum and cymbal accents. The twosome continue together on Why Not, the date’s final Lewis composition, not to be confused with the similarly title Kenny Barron tune. Lewis opens the episodic piece with a dramatic solo organ introduction, before Waits joins in to drive the music to a controlled frenzy over his band mate’s Epistrophy inspired bassline. The organist-drummer team has their final tandem expedition on Crepuscule With Nellie, Monk’s most moving dedication to his devoted wife. Lewis’s church roots are in full flower on the stirring dirge, with Wait’s sprawling drums steering the rendition far away from any mawkish sentimentality.
Two trio tacks complete the date. Wood rejoins Lewis and Waits on Teo, the rarely heard Monk piece written for his Columbia Records producer Teo Macero, best known for his work with Miles Davis. The rhythmic outing propelled by Waits’ asymmetrical drum line shows off the tenorist and organist at their relaxed best. Jackson replaces Wood on the concluding 52nd Street Theme (written by Monk, but never recorded by him) ending the disc, as it has thousands of live sets since it was first heard on Swing Street in the early days of bebop.
Much of the music of Thelonious Monk was for the most part unexplored during the iconic pianist’s lifetime. Following his death many memorials were recorded, some innovative tributes, others generic regurgitations, and almost none by organists. Greg Lewis has long had an almost obsessive, “monk-like” devotion to the pianist’s music, since first hearing it as a youth. He’s exhibited a similar dedication to the Hammond organ since he first laid his hands and feet on its keys and pedals many years ago. The results of his unswerving commitment are heard in the uncannily original approach to the music and instrument heard on this most original CD, Organ Monk: Uwo In The Black.
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