Music review: ‘American Standard’

December 28, 2013 

  • Jazz

    Greg Lewis

    Organ Monk: American Standard

As Tar Heel jazz fans, we see the word “Monk” and recall Thelonious Monk, the late pianist and composer born in Rocky Mount in 1917.

The term “American Standard” also connects because Monk, in addition to his compositions, was known for playing extremely personal versions of Tin Pan Alley songs. But evidence of Monk’s influence on organists is rare – until now with Greg Lewis’ dynamic, percussive, staccato, sometimes dissonant and ominous work with his quintet: trumpeter Riley Mullins, tenor saxophonist Reggie Woods, guitarist Ron Jackson and thundering drummer Jimmy “Bean” Clemons.

This is Organ Monk’s third album, and it includes standards Monk recorded during his career, such as “Lulu’s Back in Town,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Tea for Two,” “Everything Happens to Me,” “Just a Gigolo” and “Don’t Blame Me.” Expecting dreamy, light-blue lyricism and introspective reflections? Well, you needn’t. “Nice Work...” is typical of Organ Monk’s aggressive approach: The ensemble introduces a choppy arrangement of the melody, adding extra measures at the end of phrases. Mullins solos first, building from a soft-toned statement with subdued organ backing to a high-note climax as Lewis adds suspenseful chords and Clemons turns up the heat. Woods follows with a soulful, speech-like solo, and Lewis adds the climactic statement in a stabbing duet with the drums. “Tea for Two” is the most straight-ahead performance, with Jackson swinging solidly over Clemons’ backbeat.

The aggressive rapport between Lewis and Clemons throughout this album is especially noteworthy, with the drummer’s polyrhythms flaring and subsiding in response to the organist’s melodic bursts and dynamic swells. Organ Monk is a powerhouse group.

Correspondent Owen Cordle

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