New Release: Greg Lewis - Organ Monk: Uwo In the Black
(Published: June 22, 2012)
Greg Lewis - Organ Monk: Uwo In the Black
Greg Lewis-Hammond Organ, Ron Jackson-Guitar,
Reginald R. Woods-Tenor Saxophone, Nasheet Waits-Drums & Cymbals
Street Date September 1, 2012
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 Black opens 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" with a 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.
Ugly Beauty, Monk's lone waltz, the composer's commentary on the disparity between the inner and outer attractiveness of a particular woman, opens with Lewis's organ in an almost theatrical setting, recalling the expressive context of a dramatic soap opera soundtrack. Again Wood's tenor is heard up front, poignant in its lyrical interpretation of the moving melody line, complemented by the leader's swelling, swirling funereal organ.
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.
Thelonious is 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.
Artist Website: www.greglewismusic.com/
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