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Greg Lewis / Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black

Larry Taylor By

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Uwo in the Black is organist Greg Lewis' second recording based on Thelonious Monk's music—in fact, it is the second in a projected trilogy. Lewis' debut in 2010, Organ Monk, gained high respect from critics. Whereas, the first effort was a trio affair, Lewis expands the group here by adding Reginald R. Woods on tenor saxophone. Woods' hard-edged tone and highly-charged style bring the flavor of Monk's regular tenor man Charlie Rouse to the studio. The sax also adds considerably to the powerful mix supplied by Lewis' Hammond C3 organ, Ron Jackson's gutsy guitar, and, most importantly, Nasheet Waitss' primal force on drums. The playlist includes ten Monk tunes, supplemented by four of Lewis' compositions.

Well schooled on piano, Lewis studied with the likes of Charles Mingus' pianist Jaki Byard and Miles Davis' early sideman Gil Coggins, who reportedly nicknamed him "Thelonious Hunk" for his deep knowledge of the legendary composer. Raised listening to gospel and Afro American music, Lewis brings his background to shape Monk into his own style. He rounds off Monk's jagged lines with the fuller-sounding organ, breathing new life into these unique compositions.

"Little Rootie Tootie" leads off, the infectious ditty a real hooker, starting slowly, it builds relentlessly until on organ, "all stops are out." Along the way, comes a fleet-fingered guitar solo and a masterly tenor passage. The rest of the selections have a tough time living up to this—but do. Lewis' composition, "In the Black—My Nephew," starts with a sax dirge which gives way to a wall of sound, organ on top, supported by a heavy drum ballast. "Bright Mississippi," is Monk's acid-etched look at the South. Written in 1962, the date of University of Mississippi racial demonstrations, the organ treatment projects a false jauntiness, seemingly taunting the Establishment. Monk's seldom heard, "Skippy" evokes the ups and downs on a roller coaster, as the drums heavily stir the carnival atmosphere, and soon admit the guitar for a solo turn. On "Thelonious," drums and organ duet, hand-in-hand for a swinging jog, cymbals and snares leading the repetitive, mesmerizing pace.

Based on this second edition of the trilogy, the third and final part is highly anticipated.

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