Organist Greg Lewis opened his set at the Provincetown Playhouse a couple of weeks ago with a mighty, sustained swell of tritones that grew more and more menacing as the sound swirled and smoked through his Leslie speaker. Then he launched into his first Thelonious Monk number of the night. In over an hour onstage, he took the crowd on a roller-coaster of whirlwind riffs, purist blues, phantasmagorial chromatics, a dip into gritty noir, then up and out with a torrential take of Monk’s Four in One.
Lewis calls this project Organ Monk – and was giving away free t-shirts to spread the gospel of Monk on the organ, a “completely different beast” compared to the man in the hat’s piano originals. It’s amazing how much color and orchestral vastness Lewis gets out of his righthand, considering that he doesn’t use the pedals much, tirelessly walking the bass with his left, constantly working the drawbars for subtle shifts in tone and timbre. Monk on the piano can be creepy – Monk on Lewis’ B3 is terrifying.
Yet for all the pyrotechnics, the best song of the night might have been Lewis’ own, slow, simmering, somber, subtly latin-tinged original, dedicated to his nephew. Then he picked up the pace with a handful of tunes from his latest album, American Standards a collection of reharmonized Broadway and cabaret tunes that Monk liked to play Guitarist Ron Jackson was every bit as ferocious as Lewis was, capping off several solos with machete volleys of tremolo-picked chords and taking the intensity up even further with his circing, lightning arpeggios and clustering riffs. And who would have expected icy ghoulabilly chicken-scratch, or wide swaths of octaves that were closer to Indian raga riffs than Wes Montgomery? Behind them, their drummer used his hardware for playful accents when he wasn’t swinging the funk with an agile understatement.
The concert series’ organizer, alto saxophonist Dave Pietro added some high-voltage, Coltrane-ish flurries and stormy torrents on a couple of tune as well. It was a change from the lyrical. Ravel-influenced tunefulness he’d played at the festival’s opening concert the previous week, leading a great band with Gary Versace on piano, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.
Lewis continues to maintain a punishing gig schedule all over town; he and another first-rate guitarist, Marvin Sewell are at Bar Lunatico for brunch on July 21 at 1 PM. This year’s summer series of admission-free jazz concerts at the Provincetown Playhouse on Washington Square West continues on July 22 at 7 PM with Rolling Stones sax player Tim Ries and his band.