Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Gregory Lewis with Marc Ribot - Organ Monk Blue (2018)

Adapting the music and mood of Thelonious Monk to a Hammond B3 organ might be a tricky proposition but Gregory Lewis has literally made a career out of it. Organ Monk Blue is already Lewis’ fifth record since his 2010 debut Organ Monk, quickly following Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite just seven months earlier (in between these two dates was the 100th anniversary of Monk’s birthday, by the way). While the 2017 effort featured a six movement suite that tied to a theme of African-American lives wiped out by deadly police force, Organ Monk Blue is a return to Monk covers, like those found on Lewis’ first two albums. As the title implies, this collection of Monk covers sets out to illuminate the blues that’s found at the core of most every song he composed.

Guitarist Marc Ribot and Jeremy Bean Clemons are held over from The Breathe Suite, and so is Lewis’ inclination to ignore the need to consciously play ‘jazz.’ Broadly speaking, of course, that’s what this music is, but like all the best jazz artists, Lewis stretches that genre to the point that listeners forget what kind of music is being presented, because the presentation successfully transcends that.

Having said all that, I’d call this a blues record. Since the participants involved aren’t ordinary, neither is this an ordinary blues album. The very presence of Ribot insures there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about this organ-guitar-drums combo, but Ribot isn’t such an outlier that he doesn’t understand how a guitar and B3 interacts. After all, he was in Brother Jack McDuff’s band early in his career. He’s not here to do skronky freak outs, but he does lend a whole lot of diverse approaches, which is just what Lewis needs for a record that varies its plan of attack from track to track.

So for example, the basic thematic strain of “Green Chimneys” is retained but that swing is turned into a funky blues-rocker and Ribot complements Lewis’ thick slabs of B3 with jazzy guitar lines. On the other hand, Ribot rhythm guitar is dubbed over itself on “Blue Hawk,” and his lead part tilts on the rock side. The solo he leaves on “Mysterioso” [sic] sounds like no one else, full of inventive licks.

As the leader and brainchild, Lewis again demonstrates the countless ways Monk tunes can be refurbished into something that’s just as original as the original. For example, Lewis takes a small riff Monk played on “Raise Four” and turns it into the opening vamp for his way more combustible version. Lewis, Ribot and Clemons start “Blue Sphere” by playing extemporaneously until Lewis introduces Monk’s key figure nearly two minutes in. From that point, the trio quickly coalesces into a slow burning blues, Ribot and Lewis taking turns making fervent, blues-soaked statements. That epochal melodic figure of “Mysterioso” is retained, but once that’s out of the way, the boys ease back into another slowly-simmering blues.

“Nutty” is another Monk song distinctive for its off-kilter but endearing main figure, and the three exploit it fully. Once again playing untethered at the intro, Lewis & Co. settle into their jazziest stride of the whole album and Ribot is emulating bits of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green in his leads while Lewis evokes a lot of both Charles Earland and Larry Young.

The catawampus tempo “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are” is straightened out and made into a hard groove, while “Blues Five Spot” is played as a straight-up blues with a walking bass line. And Lewis doesn’t stick strictly to the classic numbers; “Blue Hawk” is a Monk obscurity but he rightly recognizes its potential and makes a funky little number out of it.

1 Green Chimneys 5:42
2 Blue Sphere 7:30
3 Raise Four 4:53
4 Misterioso 6:50
5 Blue Hawk 9:20
6 Nutty 7:44
7 Blues Five Spot 4:26
8 Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are 5:04

Gregory Lewis, Hammond B3 Organ
Marc Ribot, Guitar
Jeremy Bean Clemons, Drums

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