Organ Monk: American Standard-- Greg Lewis

This is the third stirring Organ Monk CD from organist Greg Lewis, but the first to focus on ten standards that Thelonious Monk enjoyed playing and mostly recorded, rather than on the pianist's own compositions. One may wonder in listening to the Organ Monk albums what Monk might have sounded like if he had taken up the organ, for Lewis' daring arrangements and brash performing style expand the music sonically and harmonically in ways that could easily have appealed to Thelonious. Deservedly returning from Organ Monk: Uwo In the Black are tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods and guitarist Ron Jackson, the latter also having appeared on volume one, simply titled Organ Monk. Supplementing their commitment and understanding are two newcomers, veteran trumpeter Riley Mullins (Illinois Jacquet, Frank Foster, Roy Hargrove, David Murray, Wynton Marsalis), and Lewis' comrade-in-arms out of their New York stomping grounds, drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons, who adeptly succeeds Cindy Blackman and Nashiet Waits from the first two Organ Monks.

The quintet starkly bites off the theme of "Liza," and then Woods jets off into a churning and involving solo, followed by Mullins in lusty, exclamatory fashion. Meanwhile, Lewis' comping and Clemons relentless ever-shifting input are things to behear. The organist spiritedly caps it all off with an alternatively gliding and jabbing improv. For "Lulu's Back In Town," the leader's wily opening toys with the initial few notes of the melody before finally giving way to the tenor-trumpet recital of the theme, although he takes on the bridge himself. Mullins displays both his chops and unpretentious expressiveness in his statement, while Woods testifies with bluesy runs and guttural voicings. Lewis never loses sight of the theme in his provocative, tonally varied exploration. Off-kilter harmonies and rhythms characterize the delivery of "Nice Work If You Can Get It," leading to a rather mellow start by Mullins that becomes more intense as he continues on. Woods bounces delightfully from one differentiated phrase to another in his compelling solo, here as elsewhere his own man. Lewis' turn retains the freshness of the initial theme arrangement, his runs and soundscapes restlessly and productively probing.

Lewis' sustained church organ tones precede another cleverly orchestrated theme portrayal of "Dinah," and Mullins' warm and lyrically articulate solo launches a captivating series, with Woods sly and brawny, and Lewis skillfully blending tonal effects and apt motifs, as Clemons never flags in his inventive responses. "I Should Care" finds Lewis' dark, elongated notes setting up Mullins' glowing Clifford Brown-influenced interpretation of the melody and his extended, sinuously delineated assertion. Lewis answers with a more concise solo laden with majestic harmonies prior to Mullins' forceful reprise. The organist plays the verse of "Tea for Two" with tongue-in-cheek fidelity and rigidity before he and Clemons attack the melody with rhythmic abandon. Lewis offers a songful and absorbing solo, seconded by Jackson's glittering, multi-textured approach. Going it alone on "Don't Blame Me," Lewis and Clemons make clearly evident their exceptional chemistry. Just 2:05 of theme with embellishments, legato organ contrasting sharply with stabbing percussion.

Brooding Lewis and splashing Clemons begin "Everything Happens to Me," with Woods then entering deeply earnest on the theme. His tenor solo is balladry at its finest, arpeggios and winding lines galore, with a romantic bent. Lewis succeeds him with a cavernous bottom accentuating his soulful phrases and reverberating chords. Tenor and organ together take the reprise to great emotional heights. Lewis takes the melody of "Just a Gigolo" with harmonic acuity and ingenuity, prefacing Jackson's pliant, swinging excursion that features attractively etched chords. The organist's solo scampers and wails right into his sudden, swelling, and succinct recap. "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is given an epic 13-minute treatment, brilliantly and uniquely arranged. Pulsating, ongoing sonar-sounding guitar, warped tenor-trumpet expositions of the melody, and boldly inquisitive improvisations from Woods and a muted Mullins, are buoyed by the hypnotic undercurrent of Jackson, eerie Lewis, and flailing Clemons. Lewis' own solo builds inexorably with a broiling fervor.

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Scott Albin