Organ Monk, The Breathe Suite
The remarkable organist Gregory Lewis's latest album represents an attempt to pay homage to the victims of police violence in the US, several of which are named in the various parts of the work. The title is a reference to the cries of "I Can't Breathe" that Eric Garner was heard saying several times while in the chokehold that ended his life. He is supported here by an impressive cast of musicians including drummers Nasheet Waits and Jeremy 'BEAN' Clemons; guitarists Marc Ribot and Ron Jackson; tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods and trumpeter Riley Mullins.
Lewis is of course one of today's most striking Hammond B-3 players, and this release also illustrates how original a composer he is. The album opens with "The Chronicles of Michael Brown," the victim of a police shooting outside St. Louis. It opens with Lewis' sober atmospheric introduction with Ribot adding some acidic guitar as the horns join in the opening statement with Waits' drumming adding to the suspended tempo of the opening before Woods, Mullins, and Ribot explode with their solos. The second part of the suite, "Trayvon" (for Trayvon Martin) is a brisk, bluesy trio with trio Jackson and Clemons, followed by "Aiyana Jones Song" (Jones being a seven-year old killed during a police raid of a residence), a reflective performance by this trio with some stunning straight-ahead guitar along with Lewis' marvelous, at times bouncy playing here more in the vein of a Larry Young than Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. The quintet with Waits, Ribot, Woods and Mullins returns for the atmospheric "Eric Garner," that slowly builds intensity with Wait's standing out.
The final two parts of the suite are "Ausar And The Race Soldiers" and "Ausar And The Race Soldiers Reprise." The title here likely refers to the Ausar Auset Society, a Pan-African religious organization. The first part is a spirited quintet performance with Clemons, Jackson, Woods and Mullins, all of whom are on fire here. The Reprise is a driving trio performance by Lewis with the two drummers where Lewis's virtuosity and his improvisatory imagination is at the fore here. They conclude a recording full of exceptional music that is a worthy homage to the tragic events that inspired Lewis here.
I received my review copy from a publicist. In the video below, Gregory Lewis discusses how he became Organ Monk.