"I never had lessons on organ," Greg Lewis is quoted in the liner notes to his new album Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black. "I just watched other organ players, and learned how the organ lends itself to making the the music different each time." Well, for a guy who never took a lesson, Lewis manages his way around the instrument like someone with an advanced degree in organ studies. He does things with the Hammond C3 that would have made Jimmy Smith smile and Larry Young grin.
Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black is Lewis' sequel to his critically acclaimed 2010 album Organ Monk, perhaps the first tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk by an organ-led trio. Lewis played the B3 on that disc and he was joined by Cindy Blackman on drums and Ronald Jackson on guitar. Jackson is back for the new album, but Nasheet Waits takes over on drums and the group expands to include Reginald R. Woods on the tenor sax. Together they take Monk's music and make it new, which after all is what Lewis feels the organ can do, and even more important what jazz is all about. For good measure they add four Lewis originals, all of which fit in well with the album's concept.
"Little Rootie Tootie," a song Monk wrote for his two-year-old son, opens the album with some wailing and grinding. It gives each member of the quartet a chance to do some sweet solo work. This is followed by Lewis' own "In the Black - My Nephew," a tune that begins so quietly you can barely hear it for almost a full minute until Woods' sax begins to sing and slowly builds to a bluesy crescendo before coming down again at the end. It is one of the best tracks on the album. The next piece, "Humph," changes the pace and shows just how fast Lewis can get around on the organ. Here he plays with Woods and Waits, as he does again on "Skippy." Both are lesser known Monk compositions.