Greg Lewis / Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (2012)

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Greg Lewis / Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black
It takes abundant courage and uncommon musical vision to radically reinterpret the works of such an idiosyncratic genius as pianist Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
. Fortunately, organist Greg Lewis possesses both as is evident on the second volume of his Organ Monk trilogy, Uwo In The Black.

As he did on Organ Monk (Self Produced, 2010), Lewis adds a few of his own tunes to the Monk repertoire, seamlessly blending into the overall thematic structure. The organist's "In the Black—My Nephew" is a requiem of sorts, with his instrument's expansive and full sound creating a sacred sanctuary, while riding on the rhythmic scaffold built by Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
b.1971
drums
' crashing cymbals and thumping drums. Reginald B. Woods' mournful tenor and Ronald Shannon Jackson's melancholic guitar fill this virtual space with reserved emotion.

Monk's "Ugly Beauty" is given a similar treatment as Jackson's eastern-sounding saxophone and Lewis' capacious and spiritual Hammond C3 create an uplifting and satisfying duet ballad.

An autodidact on the organ, and long known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Monk canon, Lewis trained as a pianist with Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
1922 - 1999
piano
and Gil Coggins
Gil Coggins
Gil Coggins
1928 - 2004
piano
, and a piano-like approach to his instrument is apparent here on the bop-ish "Humph," with its arpeggios, and "Why Not," featuring his angular and edgy solos.

In addition to organist Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
, pianist Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
and funk keyboardist Sly Stone, Lewis was influenced by several church organists that he heard growing up in Queens, New York. His switch to Hammond C3, with its modesty panels, is not the only way he pays homage to them, but also in the gospel-like treatment of some of the album's pieces. On "Crepuscule with Nellie," he embellishes the melody ecclesiastically, while Waits' stimulating thumps and thrums underscore these harmonic ornamentations.

Impossible to overlook, Waits is not the type of drummer who is satisfied with merely keeping time. He brings a primal force, coupled with polyrhythmic sophistication, to create a signature style. On "Thelonious," his jagged exchange with Lewis constructs a delightfully unpredictable improvisation.

Ever the versatile guitarist, Jackson brings a bluesy, laidback groove to the trio take of "CGP" and a mercurial finesse to the flowing notes of "Bright Mississippi." His coolness contrasts well with Woods' brassy and hot tenor on the opening "Little Rootie Tootie."

Influenced by saxophonists Gene Ammons
Gene Ammons
Gene Ammons
1925 - 1974
sax, tenor
and Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
1923 - 1990
sax, tenor
's big brash sound, Woods brings more of a facile but asymmetric phrasing to the project, à la Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
1924 - 1988
sax, tenor
(well-known for his lengthy collaboration with Monk). This is best demonstrated on his soulful Extemporization, as he keeps up with Lewis' breathtaking acrobatics on the intricate and swinging "Teo."

A tribute of the best kind, Lewis' second installment re-imagines an icon's work without slavishly following it note-for-note. It nevertheless leaves the great Thelonious Monk's musical spirit intact for a new generation to enjoy.

Track Listing: Little Rootie Tootie; In The Black – My Nephew; Humph; Skippy; Ugly Beauty; Zion's Walk; GCP; Stuffy Turkey; Bright Mississippi; Thelonious; Why Not; Crepuscule With Nellie; Teo; 52nd Street Theme.

Personnel: Greg Lewis: Hammond C-3 organ; Ron Jackson: guitar; Reginald R. Woods: tenor saxophone; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Record Label: Self Produced

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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