Gregory Lewis

Organ Monk Blue
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One of the most persistent knocks about so-called Modern Jazz going back to the birth of Bebop in the 1940s was that it was too complicated and divorced from the good time sounds of most people. It was this hoary shibboleth that was cited as the cause for the rise of Soul Jazz in the 1960s was audiences supposedly tuned away from the convoluted near-abstraction of Energy Music and even Bop to groove along with simple tunes played by rhythmic organ trios and the like.

On his most recent CD organist Gregory Lewis has tuned that idea on its head. On a program of all tunes by Thelonious Monk, who as the High Priest of Bebop was blamed for first coming up with weird music, Lewis has found the populism common to all of them. With the help of long-time drummer Jeremy Bean Clemons and guitarist Marc Ribot, whose associates have ranged from Brother Jack McDuff to John Zorn, he’s come out with a greasy, swinging session that could easily take its place alongside discs by Groove Holmes, Jimmy Smith and the like. Playing off the bedrock Blues implicit part of the DNA of Monk tune, he manages to also highlight the technical sophistication there as well.

Take something as distinctive as “Mysterioso”. As the guitarist moves from slurred fingering to cleanly outlining each note, Lewis’ dual keyboard strategy is to skitter and slither around them, after which the guitarist responds with rounded string pops as if he was Wes Montgomery attaining a groove alongside Jimmy Smith. Or consider “Nutty”. With dexterous descending runs, Lewis plays the theme with little embellishment, leaving the guitarist to color the performance with fleet, ringing tones, her and elsewhere; Clemons contributes stable clock-like patterns as the piece climaxes as a swinging whole, with the organist’s tremolo jabs slipping back to the head.

Setting aside elaborations on the obvious Blues, the trio performs lesser-known tunes with the same resilience, with volcanic organ glissandi on “Green Chimneys” leading to a crescendo of hair-raising emotion from Ribot’s slurred fingering and Lewis’ metronomic rhythms; “Blue Sphere” expressed by the guitarist with crying BB King-like echoes that are as much Mississippi as Manhattan; and “Blue Hawk” treated as a straight boogaloo. Led by Clemons’ polyrhythmic smacks, the last display Ribot’s jagged Blues strategies atop the supple low rumble of organ ostinato.

Something that’s sure to interest Monk fans and Fun-Jazz fanciers alike, Organ Monk Blue also redefines, or perhaps negates, the definition of so-called complicated music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Green Chimneys 2. Blue Sphere 3. Raise Four 4. Mysteries 5. Blue Hawk 6. Nutty 7. Blues Five Spot 8. Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are

Personnel: Gregory Lewis (Hammond B3 organ); Marc Ribot (guitar) and Jeremy Bean Clemons (drums)