Gregory Lewis – Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite – Self-released, 49:32 [5/5/17] ****:
One man’s response to violence.
Listeners who want to hear cutting-edge Hammond B3 organ jazz, need to be aware of Gregory Lewis, AKA Organ Monk. Lewis’ moniker is well-chosen. He has been known to delve into Thelonious Monk’s music. More importantly the organist, band leader and composer is committed to exploring and developing a distinctive discourse which—like Monk—uses traditional jazz to propel jazz forward. Lewis does this and much more on his latest outpouring, the 49-minute, six-track conceptual album, Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite. Lewis’ previous CDs (Organ Monk, 2010; Uwo in the Black, 2012; and American Standard, 2013) pushed the perception of a jazz organ group to new heights. On his self-released The Breathe Suite Lewis goes even further.
The six movements on The Breathe Suite provide a clue to Lewis’ intentions. Four pieces are named after African-Americans killed for no reason, sometimes by white police, other times by confrontational white men. The final two pieces reference the Ausar Auset Society, a Pan-African religious organization. One of the stated purposes of Lewis’ The Breathe Suite is to “serve as an outlet for a deep emotional interface with a topic that can transcend an immediate reaction to a fleeting headline.” In other words, Lewis puts the names of these victims of violence into his compositions to offer a different kind of stage or setting for their stories, thus providing a nearly subconscious realm both emotive and musical. Lewis utilizes various musicians to bring his music into reality, so each number has an individual stance. Lewis uses his regular quintet consisting of tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, trumpeter Riley Mullins, guitarist Ron Jackson and drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons and complements this roster with drummer Nasheet Waits and guitarist Mark Ribot, who replace Clemons and Jackson on some tracks.
Lewis commences with the CD’s opus, the 19-minute “Chronicles of Michael Brown,” titled after the black man shot by a white police officer in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The outcome was community protests and wide condemnation of the subsequent trial against the police officer, who was found innocent of criminal charges. There is a long introduction where Lewis and Ribot create an unnerving guitar/organ duet while Waits generates a whispering percussive undercurrent. This is the prelude to the passionate storm. About five minutes in, Woods and Mullins enter and a sense of lamentation and then anger arises. Woods favors an expressive timbre reminiscent of Stanley Turrentine, whereas Mullins fires up swift pacing which echoes Freddie Hubbard’s vigor. Ribot then comes in with a sapphire-tinted blues improvisation with stinging guitar lines which mirror Mullins’ musical ire. Lewis takes the closing solo segment and he swings effortlessly between free jazz elements and funk phrases. Everyone comes together during the final minutes which are fueled by an appropriate sentiment of indignation.
The shortest tune is the 3:21 “Trayvon,” about 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an African-American fatally shot in 2012 in Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. On “Trayvon” the music is upbeat, positive and celebratory. Lewis, Clemons and Jackson produce a sizzling, bop-inclined trio arrangement. Fast organ and guitar riffs and solos supply a confidence which reflects Martin’s exuberance and love of life before he was tragically killed. The 7:27 “Aiyana’s Jones Song” was inspired by the seven-year-old African-American girl from Detroit who was shot and killed during a raid conducted by the Detroit Police Department. Once again, a white officer was involved. “Aiyana’s Jones Song” begins with a soft, tender intro which has an abstract nature. Then the piece switches to a lighthearted swagger fronted by Jackson’s wonderful, single-note playing while Clemons maintains an invigorating tempo. Like “Trayvon,” this tune is less about mourning and more about commemorating a person’s goodness and remembering their joie de vivre. “Aiyana’s Jones Song” concludes with a lengthy, circling outro wherein a simple motif is repeated over and over, perhaps commenting on how cyclical violence is in many communities.
There is a somber facet to the seven-minute “Eric Garner,” motivated by the homicide of a New York City African-American man who was illegally put into a stranglehold by a white New York City policeman. The police officer was not indicted despite demonstrations and medical evidence. The tune’s melancholy summary eventually transforms into an outburst of declamatory auditory statements center-pieced by Ribot’s riveting guitar which is supplemented by Lewis’ equally inflamed organ. Woods and Mullins also contribute memorable horn work. The Breathe Suite finishes with the eight-minute “Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers,” which refers to Egyptian mythology as well as a Pan-African religious organization. This number is also reprised as a bonus track. “Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers” has ardent zest and a catchy bop penchant. Jackson and Lewis trade riffs and themes, while Woods and Mullins furnish soaring sax and trumpet notes. Clemons sustains an affirmative rhythmic foundation which helps drive this uplifting traditional jazz composition to a spiraling ending. The five-minute “Ausar” reprise doesn’t tone down the energy, but the arrangement is more basic, just organ and drums. Lewis delivers B-3 gyrations, while either Clemons or Waits keep up a high-speed beat. Lewis explains each person should do what they can do concerning those who are victims. “I can’t protest,” Lewis says, “because if I protest I go to jail. I can’t feed my five kids. So what I can do is what I do: I write music…I want to get this record to each of the people…even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families, that’s what I can do.” Lewis has succeeded with his mission and the proof is Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite.
(Nasheet Waits – drums (tracks 1, 4); Marc Ribot – guitar (tracks 1, 4); Reggie Woods – tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 4-5); Riley Mullins – trumpet (tracks 1, 4-5); Gregory Lewis – Hammond B3 organ, producer; Jeremy “Bean” Clemons – drums (tracks 2-3, 5); Ron Jackson – guitar (tracks 2-3, 5))
(First Movement) Chronicles of Michael Brown
(Second Movement) Trayvon
(Third Movement) Aiyana’s Jones Song
(Fourth Movement) Eric Garner
(Fifth Movement) Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers
(Sixth Movement) Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers (reprise)
[MP3 only at time of review]