Utilising all the sliding power and gravitas, the rumble and roar of the Hammond B3 organ is available to anyone who masters its voluptuous sound. But few organists give a better account of themselves than Gregory Lewis. And so when he puts his virtuoso skills to interpreting Thelonious Monk repertoire and creating some of his own around the character and influence of His Outness, the master himself, Mr Lewis is able not simply to do justice to the blues of Thelonious Monk, but do that aspect of Mr Mon’s playing proud. This is the focus of Organ Monk Blue – not the stride-piano antecedents of Mr Monk, but the infinitely deeper roots of Mr. Monk’s music: The Blues. It’s not only a welcome change of focus, but a necessary one and it comes at a time when everyone is listening during the Centenary of Thelonious Monk. It’s important also because most musicians – even rather good, experienced ones – tend to focus on Mr Monk’s odd metre, rhythmic attack, crinkle-glass melodies and choppy chords, and so on, while almost no one draws attention to Mr Monk’s Blues.
The question is: How well does Gregory Lewis do here? Of all the current doyens of modern (Hammond B3) organ performance, Gregory Lewis knows no limits to his explorations. This short recital discerningly assembled and held aloft by stellar performances not only by Mr Lewis, but also by two other pillars of their instruments: guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jeremy Bean Clemons. If one’s reflexive default at the prospect of an organ recording – even an exquisitely curated Thelonious Monk one – is one of dispassionate or nonchalant resistance, this recording is as likely to turn ears as any made. Along the way in a deftly balanced presentation of strikingly contrasting essays (Monk-written and Lewis-written too) Gregory Lewis offers beautifully turned, reflective and buoyant readings of sui generis ‘concert’ works by Thelonious Monk – both instantly recognisable ones (“Misterioso” and “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are” as well as relative rarities such as “Green Chimneys”. The latter, with its exquisite indigo-like opening and deeper blue unraveling trips along in a manner organists might seem reluctant to pursue, burns like a priceless sapphire.
Each of the other Thelonious Monk songs skillfully prepare the way for the highly distilled and contemplative variations on Thelonious Monk fare between which they have been cleverly ensconced. The seasoned reflective qualities of Gregory Lewis, heard to such memorable effect in his earlier recordings are reawakened in the stunningly-voiced combination of sounds his gorgeously prepared instrument. The result? One is treated to how effortlessly Mr Lewis alights on the kinds of singular Monk-ish conceits that flavour the master’s whimsical compositions. But great instrument aside, this is all down to the judicious alchemy of Gregory Lewis’ perception of how Monk-ian architecture and the colour of the Blues can collide to mesmerising effect. The remarkable transitions from “Blue Sphere” and “Raise Four” set up the rich-textured gravitas of “Misterioso” that follows. Inexorable momentum here is born of fervent authority, a virtuosity of combined effects without gratuitous excess.
Apart from the glory of the Blues that this recording brings, it also raises the bar on organ trios. While much of this has to do with the celebrated genius of Gregory Lewis, his captivating direction and intensity, complete with an almost hypnotic abandon, the success of Organ Monk Blue has very much to do with what Marc Ribot and Jeremy Bean Clemons bring to the party. Each is a singular voice on his instrument and together with Mr Lewis the group makes an important contribution not only to Thelonious Monk repertoire, but to the great music of the Blues and Jazz.
Track list: 1: Green Chimneys; 2 : Blue Sphere; 3: Raise Four; 4: Misterioso; 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; Jeremy Bean Clemons: drums and cymbals
Released – 2018
Label – Independent
Runtime – 51:29