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Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: American Standard

cover of Greg Lewis CD Organ Monk: American Standard

Thelonious Monk was an American original, a unique figure of his time and place. So is Greg Lewis, organist at the helm of Organ Monk, which on American Standard expands upon its mission of interpreting Monk's own compositions, just as Monk did himself.

American Standard, Organ Monk's third album, takes up classic songs from the Tin Pan Alley songbook of the U.S.'s early 20th century. These tunes are recognized by virtually everyone raised in North America during the late 20th century, if only from subliminal exposure. 

They were written mostly for Broadway musicals, but were popularized onscreen by movie stars and ever since have been enjoyed by professionals and amateurs alike. Jazz musicians have improvised on them for decades. But you've never heard them like Organ Monk plays them - powerfully and soulfully for the 21st Century.

Thelonious Monk embraced these songs for his repertoire, performing some throughout his career. He recorded "Nice Work If You Can Get It," for instance, as a 24-year-old at an after-hours session at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem in 1941, and also in his final studio album from London in 1971, when he'd been touring Europe in a troupe rightly called The Giants of Jazz.

Such history is significant because whenever Monk touched these compositions he renewed them with his unmistakably immediate personal stamp. And that's what Greg Lewis has done, here with tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, guitarist Ron Jackson, drummer Jeremy "Bean" Clemons and trumpeter Riley Mullins comprising the expanded Organ Monk ensemble.

The band grabs the attractive, dynamic, exciting elements that make these songs classics, and squeezes them for real fun. Greg Lewis, who wears a flowing monk's robe, cowl down, when at his Hammond B-3, is a physically energized player. Like the wrestler he used to be, he pulls fast moves, rocking in rhythm, grinning maniacally as he rips through ideas.

Reggie, Ron, Bean and Riley are splendid collaborators, each with style, chops and smarts they bring to the arrangements, their solos and also the group vibe. Something like collective improvisations burst out spontaneously several times in this set. Even when not playing, the musicians are intent on what's happening. Listening to each other, they stay on beam being who they are.

    - excerpted from CD liner notes by Howard Mandel

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