Organ Monk: American Standard
For his third Organ Monk outing, Hammond B-3 man Greg Lewis shifts the focus. He’s still all about Thelonious Monk, but this time there are no original Monk compositions. Instead, the group looks at some of the standards that Monk interpreted during his career, often digging into some of the darker corners of his catalog for source material. The other major difference this time around is that Lewis, who began his project with a trio and expanded it to a quartet with 2012’s Uwo in the Black, is now working with a quintet: He, guitarist Ron Jackson, tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods and new drummer Jeremy Bean Clemons (replacing Nasheet Waits) welcome trumpeter Riley Mullins into the fold with American Standard.
The larger-format combo, not surprisingly, allows for greater range. “Tea for Two,” the usually cutesy tune that Monk reimagined for his 1963 Criss Cross album, leads in with a nearly churchy solo organ, then grows simultaneously funkier and more fragmented as Clemons, who’s quite the hotshot, jumps through rhythmic hoops behind the leader. The Gershwins’ “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which Monk cut several times, serves as a vehicle for fierce blowing from Mullins and Woods, then finally Lewis himself, who lends a soul kick to the frolicking arrangement. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” a 1930s composition by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, recorded by Cab Calloway, George Harrison and Frank Sinatra as well as Monk, is the tour de force closer.
Throughout, there’s a sense that American Standard doesn’t—despite being fronted by a keyboard—ever really sound like Thelonious Monk. But neither does it not sound like Thelonious Monk. That’s a pretty cool trick, but these guys make it seem easy.