Gregory Lewis – Organ Monk Blue

More Monk via the Organ Monk.

Gregory Lewis – Organ Monk Blue [TrackList follows] – Self-released, 50:13 [1/5/18] ****:

(Gregory Lewis – Hammond B-3 organ, producer; Marc Ribot – guitar; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons – drums)

Organist Gregory Lewis—AKA “Organ Monk”—continues his Thelonious Monk appreciation on Organ Monk Blue. This album is Lewis’ fifth as a leader and third to concentrate on Monk. Previous projects comprise 2017’s The Breathe Suite (which focused largely on African-American victims of violence); 2013’s American Standard (a collection of Great American Songbook tunes that were performed by Monk); 2012’s Uwo in the Black (which coalesced Monk compositions with Lewis originals); and 2010’s Organ Monk (which had 15 Monk adaptations). Lewis has come full circle with Organ Monk Blue: it has eight well-known and obscure Monk compositions. For this new effort Lewis pared down to a core trio with guitarist Marc Ribot—who participated in The Breathe Suite sessions—and drummer Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons. This is the third time Clemons has joined Lewis in the studio. Ribot is a versatile guitarist who has collaborated with Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and John Zorn; and was a member of John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards from 1984 to 1989. Ribot is no stranger to organ jazz bands; he performed with famed jazz organist Jack McDuff.

Lewis always brings a forward-thinking approach to his organ work as well as Monk interpretations. He’s as likely to evoke Larry Young as Jimmy Smith. Ribot is a perfect complement to Lewis’ multifaceted, sometimes elaborate playing. The threesome open with a nearly six-minute take of “Green Chimneys.” The arrangement has a weighty, shifting funk foundation. Ribot and Lewis maintain a jazz swing but sustain a groove-glistened electric-blues base accentuated by Lewis’ chunky blocks of soulful B3 lines, while Ribot solos with colorful guitar runs. Another familiar piece is “Mysterioso” (usually spelled as “Misterioso”). This is a relaxed blues ballad replete with Ribot’s tasty guitar licks; a sparkling drum introduction (Clemons’s cymbals shine throughout “Mysterioso”); and an often-introspective organ quality. This isn’t sleepy-time music but “Mysterioso” has a wonderful late-night vibe. There’s plenty of surprises during the almost eight-minute translation of “Nutty.” The reworking commences with a spacey introduction which emphasizes Monk’s unconventional and eccentric style. After the liberated intro, Lewis, Ribot and Clemons gel together to lay out a swinging mannerism teeming with memorable moments. During “Nutty” Ribot echoes other guitarists who did organ jazz music such as Grant Green and Wes Montgomery; meanwhile, Lewis mirrors Smith, McDuff and Young.

The lengthiest number is also the least-known, the 9:20 “Blue Hawk.” Monk recorded it once in 1959. The trio provides an exuberant, impelling impetus to this seldom-heard piece and furnishes “Blue Hawk” a Southern-sliced, soul-blues treatment as if Booker T. and the MGs jammed with Duane Allman. There’s lots of Ribot all through “Blue Hawk,” where he overdubs rhythm guitar on top of his lead parts, a tactic which supplies a rock-tilted tone. When Lewis solos, he goes straight into blues territory. Clemons is the solid support, holding a steady rhythm and occasionally heightening things with choice percussive touches. The shortest track is the five-minute “Raise Four,” found on Monk’s 1968 LP, Underground. Clemons, Ribot and Lewis give this a fiery, fast-paced trajectory full of arcing, blistering guitar lines; incendiary organ sounds; and Clemons’ go-for-broke drumming. The trio closes with another soul-blues cut, “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are,” from Monk’s 1956 record Brilliant Corners. Lewis peppers the arrangement with bouncy organ notes; Clemons offers a skipping rhythmic flair; and Ribot moves from scratchy rhythmic verve when he buoys Lewis to a Chicago-styled blues impression when he takes the spotlight. If you’re someone who welcomes historical jazz tradition sifted through a present/future prism, you should listen to Lewis and his Monk reworkings.

TrackList:
Green Chimneys
Blue Sphere
Raise Four
Mysterioso
Blue Hawk
Nutty
Blues Five Spot
Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are

—Doug Simpson

 

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