Greg Lewis’ Organ Monk, an organ led group that has focused on the music of Thelonious Monk, has an unique focus in their third album, American Standard (self-produced). While previous recordings have interpreted Monk’s compositions, American Standard plays songs that Monk did not write but did perform. Those who have heard Monk’s renditions of songs from Duke Ellington as well as songs such as Liza, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Dinah and Just a Gigolo know how distinctive Monk's renditions of these songs are. Lewis takes Monk’s renditions as inspiration and a starting point for his group’s performances on this recording.
For this recording, organist Lewis’ Organ Monk includes tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, guitarist Ron Jackson, drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons and trumpeter Riley Mullins. This writer is familiar with some of Monk's recordings of these standards with his angular lines, his spare phrasing and what he omits in his stride-rooted piano. The Hammond B-3 does not lend itself to such an attack, but the group does provide distinctive renditions in the performances heard here.
I was very impressed by the playing throughout. Lewis is a strong organist with a punchy attack on Nice Work if You Can Get It, that also displays gritty tenor sax by Reggie Woods. Mullins displays fire on Lulu’s Back In Town, while he takes a bit softer and rounded approach on “Dinah” before Woods plays in a bit more gut-bucket manner. The ballad, “I Should Care,” is a showcase of Mullins as well as for the leader. “Tea For Two,” in contrast is a trio number that showcases the nimble, fleet guitar of Jackson. On “Everything Happens To Me,” Woods helps construct the mood with some bluesy-playing against the leaders organ backing.
Drummer Clemons sounds heavy handed at a few points, but it is not a serious issue on this strong, fascinating organ jazz recording.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Available from cdbaby.com, this has a street release date of January 7, 2014. Here Greg Lewis talks about this project.