Charlie Apicella & Iron City – The Business – Carlo Music Records CAR 233, 52:39 ***1/2:
(Charlie Apicella – guitar; Dave Mattock – Hammond B-3 organ; Alan Korzin – drums; Stephen Riley – tenor saxophone (except track 5); Mayra Casales – congas, percussion (except track 5); Dave Stryker – producer)
If you are part of the Grant Green fan club, you’re going to like guitarist Charlie Apicella and his funky group Iron City. The young Brooklyn-based combo has an affinity for classic soul-jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s and in particular the R&B-tinted territory which Green and likeminded artists pursued.
Four of the nine tracks on the group’s third release, The Business, have some connection to Green, although there are other influences which stand out as well. Green’s “Donny Brook” is a flavorful and little known gem Green recorded during a 1969 quartet session featuring organist Don Patterson, saxophonist Sonny Stitt, Green and drummer Billy James. The cut finally came to light in 2001 as a bonus track on the Prestige Records CD reissue of Brothers-4. Apicella & Iron City keep this a toe-tapping pleasure highlighted by Dave Mattock’s groove-inflected Hammond B-3, Stephen Riley’s rhythmic tenor sax and a lightly Latinized, percolating beat laid out by drummer Alan Korzin and percussionist Mayra Casales.
Blue Note house drummer Ben Dixon wrote “Cantaloupe Woman,” which can be found on Grant Green’s 1965 Verve outing His Majesty King Funk. This version emulates Green’s arrangement which also used guitar, organ, sax, congas and drums. Riley delivers a flute-like cadence during his solo, Mattock brings in the soul when he takes the spotlight, and Apicella plays it straight-ahead and straightforward when he steps up: he’s not flashy, which fits the arrangement just fine. The nearly ten-minute long “Stanley’s Time” also has a link to Green. Stanley Turrentine put this on a live album (Up At Mintons, Blue Note, 1961) at a time when Green performed on stage with Turrentine. “Stanley’s Time” escalates the Latin sensibility with strong contributions from Casales during the opening section and near the tune’s closure. The tricky arrangement also gives Riley a workout – he doesn’t have Turrentine’s full-bodied tone but there’s no question he has technique – while Apicella provides a single-note style similar to Green’s unique quality, which is echoed when Mattock moves forward for his solo.
Stitt’s “Blue String” is surely a foot-tapping crowd pleaser. Apicella and Mattock trade riffs back and forth in an assured manner while Korzin nurtures a solid backbeat. Korzin wisely doesn’t try to reproduce Stitt’s Coltrane-esque maneuvering, although here and there he does seem to hold back the richer timbre of his tenor: there just is not much bite or punch.
Elvis Presley isn’t the first person who comes to mind when thinking of soul-jazz, but the band (minus Riley and Casales) gives a lamenting, late-night feel to “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Apicella replicates Presley’s vocal while he maintains the memorable melody on guitar, his sustained notes reiterating Presley’s elegiac emotive voice while Mattock offers a low-key, spiritual contribution. This is several steps above Cyrus Chestnut’s nearly-smooth jazz take which can be heard on Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch Records, 2007).
The originals bear up, for the most part, against the covers. Apicella’s title track has a robust R&B texture which sturdily suits his single-note and chordal progressions. “64 Cadillac” has a samba ambiance which enhances Riley’s whispery, Stan Getz-esque saxophone nature. The group’s signature tune, “Ironcity,” is not quite as notable. Riley’s sandpapery sound lacks a bit of the verve which this upbeat composition needs and the melody isn’t as durable as other cuts. On the other hand, Mattock’s groove-flecked, mid-tempo “The Shaw Shuffle” proceeds along at a compelling pace, with focus on his rolling keyboards.
Overall, Charlie Apicella & Iron City uphold a no-nonsense guitar/sax/organ attitude. These guys aren’t endeavoring to reinvent the genre but preserve it and keep it alive: groove matters and this is a band that knows how to honor the groove.
1. The Business
2. 64 Cadillac
3. Donny Brook
5. Can’t Help Falling in Love
6. Cantaloupe Woman
7. Blue String
8. The Shaw Shuffle
9. Stanley’s Time
— Doug Simpson