Greg Lewis – Organ Monk – self released, 67:20 ****:
(Greg Lewis – Hammond B-3 organ; Cindy Blackman – drums; Ron Jackson – guitar)
Thelonious Monk was one of the great jazz composers and while he was the best performer of his own music, many musicians have been inspired by Monk to record his compositions or create tributes.
On Greg Lewis’ debut, Organ Monk, the keyboardist tries a Monk homage using a classic Hammond B-3 organ, guitar and drums line-up. Lewis has been a part of New York’s blues, jazz and funk scenes and he brings his talents as musician, band leader and arranger to 14 tracks that serve notice he is fast becoming a versatile and memorable B-3 player.
Lewis is ably backed by guitarist Ron Jackson, who has been a mainstay of Lewis’ trio for years, and drummer Cindy Blackman. Blackman and Lewis were destined to record together: Blackman is an unwavering Tony Williams Lifetime fan (her recent release, Another Lifetime, is driven by Williams’ music and legacy); Lifetime featured one of Lewis’ avowed influences, organist Larry Young. Young’s reading of “Monk’s Dream,” found on Young’s 1965 sojourn Unity, was one of several reasons Lewis devoted a full album to Monk.
Lewis could have done note-for-note interpretations but instead he puts unique spins to familiar tunes. Lewis pushes into high gear with an up-tempo rendition of “Trinkle Tinkle,” where he spirals out the unconventional melody as he also lays out the bottom end with his organ bass pedals. Lewis and Blackman set up an intricate, funky organ/drum groove and eventually Jackson slides in with an impeccable guitar solo. That’s just a warm-up. During “Criss Cross” Lewis confirms Young’s influence as he combines poised atmospherics with Coltrane-esque landslides of twisted and jagged notes. Blackman follows suit as she shapes a groundswell of brisk rhythmic contrasts. The arrangement gets earthy when the famous melody takes root but Blackman and Lewis go stratospheric again at the conclusion. The threesome burn all bridges on the scampering “Four in One.” It is difficult to keep up with Lewis’ darting fingers as he veers up and down the keyboard, but Blackman proves his perfect foil, egging him on with her own dexterous rhythms as she shows a side of her personality not heard on her own material: vital but not as boisterous.
Other pieces offer traditionalism. The trio presents a comfortable and swinging mood on “Light Blue,” a feature for Jackson’s soulful guitar. Blackman maintains a firm, easy lope while Lewis echoes another of his heroes, Jimmy Smith. On the unhurried “Think of One” the three artists demonstrate a bluesy disposition: Jackson in particular shines as he illustrates a bit of B.B. King mixed with Jimmy Reed. “Monk’s Mood,” mostly a vehicle for Lewis’ witty organ, utilizes a superlative ballad treatment. Lewis’ finely-etched organ lines remain in memory long after the melody drifts away.
Lewis wraps up the 67-minute undertaking with his original, Monk-ish work “Kohl’s Here,” dedicated to his young son (who can be spotted in the CD’s inlay artwork). The cut is a fast-paced bop blazer that reveals Lewis’ compositional skill.
1. Trinkle Tinkle
3. Criss Cross
4. Light Blue
5. Played Twice
6. Boo’s Birthday
7. Coming in the Hudson
8. Four in One
10. We See
11. Monk’s Mood
12. Think of One
15. Kohl’s Here
— Doug Simpson