Organ Monk: American Standard is the third album in what is now organist Greg Lewis’s trilogy of tributes to Thelonious Monk and his music. The first, 2010’s Organ Monk, had Lewis working with Cindy Blackman on drums and Ron Jackson on guitar for an exploration of 15 Monk originals, including classics like “Trinkle Tinkle, “Criss Cross” and “Four in One.” This was followed by Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (“uwo,” according to one reviewer means two in the Nubian dialect) in 2012.
The second album, while still including Monk classics like “Little Rootie Tootie,” went deeper into the Monk canon and added some Lewis originals. Tenor saxophonist Reginald Woods came aboard, and Nasheet Waits took over on drums.
American Standard has Lewis exploring ten tunes from the “Great American Songbook,” songs that had become a significant part of Monk’s repertoire over the years. As Howard Mandel’s liner notes indicate, this third Organ Monk album “expands upon its mission of interpreting Monk’s own compositions, just as Monk did himself.” He probably should have added, mission accomplished. Lewis and the newly constructed ensemble–personnel changes include the addition of Riley Mullins on trumpet and Jeremy Clemons handling the drums—channel the spirit of the master, and even more importantly build on it. They don’t mimic, they create.
The album takes off with a rapid fire romp through George Gershwin’s “Liza,” featuring some fine solo work from both horns, before Lewis takes it to the climax. This is followed by “Lulu’s Back in Town,” which has Lewis’s Hammond B3 opening the proceedings before the ensemble comes in with the theme and the horns kick in. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” has some really witty solo work from Woods and Mullins. Mullins also adds an intense solo later in the album on “I Should Care.”
Lewis and Jackson team up to avoid making the saccharine “Tea for Two” overly sweet. Lewis has the opening solo and then Jackson comes in with some dynamite work on the guitar. Jackson continues his yeoman work with his soloing in “Just a Gigolo.”
“Everything Happens to Me” begins with some soulful sax before the organ takes the spotlight half way into the piece. “Don’t Blame Me,” at a little over two minutes, is the shortest piece on the disc, but in many respects commands the most drama from Lewis. The album ends with an epic take on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” that opens with an opportunity for Clemons to stand out on the drums, and has some hot trumpet licks later on.
Organ Monk: American Standards is an album filled with exciting music, music you’ll want to savor.