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Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black

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The arrangements that organist Greg Lewis uses on Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black, his second quartet album of guess-whose music, show little to no deviation from Monk’s. Instead, Lewis expresses his astonishing originality through his aggressive instrumental attack, as overdriven as the amplification on his Hammond C3. The effect can be brash-Lewis plays “Stuffy Turkey,” for example, as if with a sledgehammer-but more often it’s gregarious, rightfully delighting in its own sound and in the songs themselves.

Lewis isn’t alone in that approach. Saxophonist Reginald Woods goes similarly all-out, a growling but irresistible caricature of carnality on “Little Rootie Tootie” and “Bright Mississippi” (but telling great stories on both). Nasheet Waits, arguably the finest drummer of his generation, shows his versatility but still tends toward explosive charges like his funk break on “52nd Street Theme” and scouring duet with Lewis on “Crepuscule With Nellie.” Only guitarist Ron Jackson remains mostly understated, with a nimble cleanup solo on “Skippy” and clear, graceful lines on “Bright Mississippi.” Still, “52nd Street Theme” finds even him in a barbed, atonal performance.

Interestingly, the histrionics stop at Lewis’ original compositions. “Zion’s Walk,” featuring only Lewis and Waits, is a blues jam crafted with much more subtle use of Hammond and ride cymbal; even when the duo trade solo choruses they’re reined in and self-consciously tasteful. The regal “In the Black-My Nephew” builds to a soulful howl, but a more carefully plotted one than the Monkish cartoons. Those cuts are more in line with jazz-organ tradition-a clever, witty reminder of both Monk’s imagination and Lewis’.

Originally Published