By Ed Enright | Published January 2024
New York Hammond B-3 organist Gregory Lewis has spent a substantial portion of his career delving into the music of Thelonious Monk, a practice that has taken him to concerts halls and clubs in faraway locations and led to opportunities to connect with top musicians from a variety of soulful, funky genres. Years of practice and repertoire development have honed Lewis’ skills not only as a formidable jazz improviser and composer, but as a celebrated interpreter of both well-known and obscure material by Monk, the historic composer-pianist whose legacy is associated with the birth of bebop, the upending of conventional harmony and the sound of surprise in general. With a title inspired by a 2020 trip to Zimbabwe, Organ Monk Going Home takes Lewis on a spiritual journey of sorts to jazz’s proverbial African homeland, where he finds himself in the company of guitarist Kevin McNeal and drummer Nasheet Waits, longtime simpatico collaborators who demonstrate a keen familiarity with the organist’s every impulse. To kick things off, the trio digs into the uptempo swing of “Who Knows,” with Lewis applying manic energy and a burst of momentum to the tune’s downward-spiraling movement; Waits takes the tune out in dramatic fashion, ending a grand crescendo of drum-solo-over-band-accompaniment with a crash. Lewis and company have a gas navigating the metric displacement on the head to the herky-jerky “Evidence,” then fall comfortably into a long section of medium swing groove and inspired soloing in which the players borrow freely from the song’s quirky, stop-start motifs. Other highlights of Organ Monk Going Home include a brilliant take on “Brilliant Corners” that spotlights the composer’s attention-getting shifts in and out of double-time and features a Lewis organ solo bursting with handfuls of sustained, Leslie-swirling chords that intensify as they increase in density; “Two Timer,” played here with a funky organ-pedal bass line and a hip-hopping drum beat underneath a melodic line so catchy it could pass for a pop hit; and a greasy take on “Brake’s Sake” that brings additional funkiness and even a bit of disco feel to the session. The album concludes with “Jaclyn’s Eyes,” an original composition by Lewis that submerges the listener into an ocean of ambient atmospherics and a rock-anthem beat — a striking juxtaposition to everything that comes before it. Lewis does an amazing job of approaching Monk’s piano-centric ideas to organ, a completely different animal with enough idiosyncratic tendencies to satisfy even the most curious and discriminating Monk enthusiasts among us.