Charlie Apicella and Iron City – Big Boss [TrackList follows] – Zoho ZM 201405, 52:23 [7/8/14] (Distr. by Allegro) ***1/2:
(Charlie Apicella – guitar, co-producer; Freddie Hendrix – trumpet (except track 6); Stephen Riley – tenor saxophone; Dan Kostelnik – organ; Mayra Casales – congas (except track 8); Alan Korzin – drums, co-producer; Amy Bateman – violin (track 6))
New York City-based guitarist Charlie Apicella believes in a sturdy foundation. He specifically chose the name of his trio, Iron City, to evoke the feeling of a solid structure, akin to the steel and iron which buttresses a building (the band was not nicknamed after Pittsburgh). Apicella’s music also is constructed with strong roots formed from jazz tradition. Apicella’s influences range from Lester Young and Gene Ammons to Wes Montgomery and even Frank Sinatra. One listen to Apicella’s latest outing with Iron City, Big Boss (his third offering and first on the Zoho label), and listeners will immediately notice the inspirations of jazz organ groups led by “Big” John Patton, Larry Young, Don Patterson and others.
The 52-minute, eight-track album is pervaded with groove, whether the tune is up-tempo, a swinger, a ballad or otherwise. The set list is split evenly. Apicella penned four cuts; two Grant Green compositions act as closers; a well-known Willie Dixon blues is covered; and a Motown number is also interpreted. The core trio (Apicella; organist Dan Kostelnik; drummer Alan Korzin) are abetted by two horn players (trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, who has worked with Christian McBride and Steve Turre; and tenor saxophonist Stephen Riley, who has credits on Apicella’s two previous CDs); violinist Amy Bateman (who is also on a preceding Apicella release); and congas musician Mayra Casales (yet another Apicella alum, who has also guested on a Virginia Mayhew CD).
Each lengthy title (none under five minutes) has a story to tell. The group starts with assurance on a soulful version of the Supremes’ pop hit, “I Hear a Symphony,” which has an arrangement which Apicella states intentionally calls to mind jazz organist Charles Earland (although Earland apparently did not record this Holland-Dozier-Holland song). Like Earland, Apicella ably links a melodic and hook-filled pop piece with a spirited, soul-jazz texture and appropriate chord developments. There is warm interplay and soloing between Apicella, Kostelnik, Hendrix and Riley. No doubt music fans will recognize “Spoonful.” The Willie Dixon blues standard has been done by numerous acts, including Cream, Etta James, the Grateful Dead and James “Blood” Ulmer. Here, Apicella returns the tune back to its blues origins, with a chord progression built from a one-chord vamp by Howlin’ Wolf. Dixon’s chords lend themselves easily to a larger band arrangement, so there is lots of action between organ and the two horns, while Apicella also injects a call-and-response style via his guitar. Earlier Apicella albums have shown his love for guitarist Grant Green and on Big Boss Apicella once again showcases how much Green means to him. Green’s “The Selma March” (from Green’s 1965 LP, His Majesty King Funk, with Young on organ) is one of Apicella’s favorite Green recordings, and Apicella expressively recreates Green’s definitive sound, with a hybrid rhythm groove which combines a New Orleans-Second Line with a Brazilian tonality: Casales’ percussion and Korzin’s in-the-pocket drumming are perfectly coupled. Green’s original 1961 take of his “Good Mornin’” had a laid-back approach due to his use of acoustic piano. Here, Apicella and Iron City pick up the tempo, with Kostelnik providing vamps across his keyboard, while Riley applies a breathy charm on his tenor sax: both deliver a confidently-spun gospel sensibility. Throughout the seven minutes, the group attains an alluring attitude, which infers a fittingly positive outlook.
Apicella’s four compositions are also ear-catching. The most prominent is the slow-swinger “Amalfi,” an understated gem. Apicella deliberately gives this soothing, melodic feature to Bateman and Riley, who trade solos with quiet, whispery artistry. Other tunes are more upbeat. “Idris” has a measured, capering cadence which Apicella says “takes me back to when jazz was the popular dance music.” Certainly this toe-tapper will cause some to shuffle their feet, particularly when Apicella lays down a Montgomery-esque groove. Soul-jazz is paramount during “In the Grass,” where Kostelnik nails down the 6/8 polyrhythmic configuration with relevant assistance from Apicella and Riley. The title track has a Blue Note-ish awareness, since it has a firm ‘60s design reminiscent of material issued on that label. Apicella cites Montgomery, Young, McCoy Tyner and Sonny Fortune as direct or indirect inspirations for this number. Big Boss is readymade for those who enjoy classic soul-jazz with guitar, organ, horns and plenty of grooves. Anyone interested in Apicella’s newest CD can scan through a 28-minute, online sneak peek of his engaging music.
TrackList: I Hear a Symphony; Idris; In the Grass; Big Boss; Spoonful; Amalfi; The Selma March; Sunday Mornin’