Greg Lewis / Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (2012)
Many a jazz musician visits the territory of pianist Thelonious Monk for a short spell, but organist Greg Lewis seems to have signed up for an extended stay. His Organ Monk (Self Produced, 2010) proved to be a completely original and exciting take on the music of the man affectionately and reverently called the High Priest of Bop, but Lewis didn't linger on this success. He buckled down and put together a sequel that is every bit as enjoyable, though different from its recorded predecessor.
Organ Monk 1.0 was a trio powered by Cindy Blackman's bruising drumming, Lewis' broad-ranging organ ideals and guitarist Ron Jackson's clean-and-direct sound. The new incarnation of this group adds Monk's horn companion of choice, the tenor saxophone, to the mix and features the drumming of Nasheet Waits, who's equally creative, but not nearly as bombastic as Blackman. These two changes make for a completely different listening experience.
Much of Organ Monk was built on the connection between drums and organ, but the Blackman-Lewis partnership was often built on a foundation of simultaneous and competitive discourse; Watts and Lewis are a more conversational and respectful coupling. They engage in three duo affairs that point to this factMonk's namesake tune ("Thelonious"), a loose and woozy twilight stroll ("Crepuscule With Nellie") and a Lewis original ("Zion's Walk")and their connection is ever-palpable across the other numbers.
Reginald R. Woods follows in the footsteps of John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse as he paints atop the quirky backgrounds endemic to Monk's music. His sound has a bit of Texas tenor gruffness, but with a brighter tone. His soloing is the highlight of the infrequently performed "Stuffed Turkey" and his out-of-place energy on "Bright Mississippi" contrasts nicely with Jackson's appropriately mellow spot.
While Lewis makes Monk's music his first priority here, he also throws a few originals into the mix. The melodious "GCP" is a clear standout, but "In The BlackMy Nephew" takes the prize for most powerful performance. This dirge-like number starts out like a sleeping bird, but evolves into a fire-breathing dragon. Long-building tension, with an eventual slumbering release, describes the dramatic arc of the music, but words are no substitute for hearing this one.
Creating two different, high quality works on the same topic is no easy feat, but Lewis has pulled it off. Organ Monk was one hell of an eye-opener, but Uwo In The Black is even better. Ingenuity stuck to Thelonious Monk throughout the majority of his career, and it seems to be hovering over Lewis as explores the master's rich and deep catalog.
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