As the second volume in a proposed trilogy, Greg Lewis’ Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black is a neatly textured collection of music inspired and written by Thelonious Monk.
Lewis plays the Hammond C3 organ and is supported by Ron Jackson (guitar), Reginald R. Woods (tenor saxophone) and Nasheet Waits (drums and cymbals). The organization is knowingly trim but surprisingly potent, capable of blowing through bursts of divine drama and musical pressure with ease.
Lewis, based in Brooklyn, studied piano with Jaki Byard and Gil Coggins. He is self-taught on the Hammond C3, however, and found inspiration from sources as diverse as Sly Stone and Larry Young. This places him somewhere between the funky and the foundational, but he seldom plays by the rules and prefers to blend the elements like a well-shaken cocktail.
Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black features 14 tracks, 10 of which are Monk originals. The four Lewis pieces are well worth a listen, as they disclose a composer with a splendid sense of scale and performance.
His “in the Black - My Nephew” is a wonderful example, with its dirge-like quality drawing on an expressive foundation. The group’s shifting of subtleties, commencing with reverence and building to exquisite movement, is highlighted by Woods’ resolute tenor.
Lewis’ “Zion’s Walk” is another instance of the composer at fine work. This piece was written for the organist’s youngest son and features remarkable bass lines reinforced by Lewis’ pedal command. The duet with Waits is an expression of how flawlessly-rendered percussion can craft a sophisticated and fresh connection with the right accomplice.
Happily, Organ Monk strays from the beaten path. The decision to include “Humph,” for instance, is a testament to how deep the Monk’s catalogue really is. The piece is from his 1947 Blue Note debut and brought to modern life thanks to Waits’ fascinating drumming.
Another highlight is the groovy phrasing found on Monk’s “Stuffy Turkey.” Woods and Lewis dance through the main lines, overlapping cunningly.
Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black stands tall as a lively, intricate probe of Monk’s many moods. Lewis and Co. tackle the material with brilliance and funk appeal, creating new dialogues with an eccentric but ultimately pleasing approach.