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Greg Lewis: Organ Monk

Dan Bilawsky By

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Fairly recent work from guitarists Bobby Broom and Peter Bernstein helped open up possibilities for Thelonious Monk's music as guitar repertoire; Greg Lewis' debut looks to do the same for the organ.

Monk's music has been notoriously tough to translate on other chordal instruments, partially because of the song structures and melodies themselves, and partly due to the nature of the piano. Monk's unique understanding of close voicing and chordal construction on the piano helped to inextricably link his compositions to that instrument. In addition, his touch—which often possessed percussive heft, but could also prove to be graceful and elegant when needed—was one of his hallmarks. The organ simply can't match or imitate these ideals, but Lewis, thankfully, doesn't try. Instead, he uses the full range of sounds that the organ can provide to spice up the head on many of these songs.

Lewis rounds out his organ trio with two contrasting performers. Guitarist Ron Jackson brings a lithe touch to this music. While he is occasionally overshadowed by Lewis, when they move in tandem, his solos are jewels of clarity and class. Drummer Cindy Blackman is on the other side of the spectrum. She comes across as more of an aggressor and coconspirator in Lewis' plot to rework Monk's music. The trio skips over Monk classics that have been done to death, like "'Round Midnight" and "Well, You Needn't," in favor of lesser-covered gems like "Light Blue," "Played Twice" and "Boo's Birthday."

The organ-drum connection is immediately established, as Blackman's tumbling drums move over some flustered organ on "Trinkle Tinkle." Blackman plays a similar role at the outset of "We See," but this is just one of many methods that Lewis uses to introduce Monk's songs. "Jackie-ing" (listed as "Jacking") begins with some spooky organ work that could have accompanied an old horror movie. "Criss Cross" is launched with fractured, angry, alien conversation between Lewis and Blackman, and ends with some heaving organ gasps. "Four In One" starts with some quick bursts of sound and a barrage of notes, while an arthritic delivery is used for "Locomotion," though things loosen up considerably when Blackman settles in for the trip.

As soloists, all three members of the band pull their weight. Lewis is inspired when trading solos with Jackson ("Light Blue") and Blackman ("Played Twice"). Blackman lets her chops off the leash for an explosive solo excursion on "Kohl's Here," and Jackson's solo work on "Coming On The Hudson" (listed as "Coming In The Hudson") is the clear highlight of the track. With fifteen tracks, Organ Monk delivers more than a mere sampling of Monk's music, and the majority of these songs confirm Lewis' talent to successfully translate these songs into the organ trio lexicon.

Track Listing: Trinkle Tinkle; Jacking; Criss Cross; Light Blue; Played Twice; Boo's Birthday; Coming in the Hudson; Four in One; Locomotion; We See; Monk's Mood; Think of One; Work; Introspection; Kohl's Here.

Personnel: Greg Lewis: Organ; Cindy Blackman: drums; Ron Jackson: drums.

Title: Organ Monk | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced

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