Charlie Apicella & Iron City – The Business (Carlo Music Record)
Despite the seriously off-putting cover art, The Business is a fun, funky album full of tasty licks. The title track kicks it off, with a tight groove providing a bed for guitarist Charlie Apicella and saxophonist Stephen Riley to solo over. Riley’s tenor work is breathy and seductive. Apicella’s guitar playing is deft but relaxed, precise but unpredictable. His Grant Green influence is laid bare on Green’s “Donny Brook,” which showcases the Hammond organ of Dave Mattock.
An offbeat ballad choice, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (made famous by Elvis Presley) gives Riley a breather. Apicella and Mattock trade off the melody, with some particularly tasteful guitar soloing by Apicella. Mayra Casales, the otherwise very active percussionist throughout The Business also sits that ballad out. She and drummer Alan Korzin are back in action soon after, though, churning out nicely-controlled soul jazz grooves. Mattock’s composition “The Shaw Shuffle” is the perfect example of the album’s low-intensity but always in-the-pocket feel.
Charlie Apicella shines on The Business, but no more than the rest of Iron City. Mattock’s organ and Riley’s rich tenor are worth the price of the record on their own. Stephen Riley’s sax playing runs the gamut on the album closer, Stanley Turrentine’s “Stanley’s Time,” a glorious showcase for his wonderfully expressive horn playing.
Sir Roland Hanna – Colors From a Giant’s Kit (IPO Recordings)
Pianist Roland Hanna passed away in 2002 at the age of seventy. His recording career began in 1959, continuing up to the time of his death. The “Sir” preceding his named was earned when Liberian president William Tubman bestowed an honorary knighthood upon Hanna. Colors From a Giant’s Kit collects fourteen solo piano pieces recorded by Hanna, including both originals and interpretations of other composers’ work. A wide range of stylistic ground is covered, with Hanna’s classical training showing alongside his formidable jazz skills.
Not necessarily for all tastes, Hanna’s playing was quite florid, even flamboyant at times. Highlights on Giant’s Kit include a traditional blues number simply titled “Blues” and Hanna’s own “20th Century Rag.” There are a pair of excellent, finely nuanced Billy Strayhorn tunes, “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lush Life.” An amazing version of Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” leads into the final track, Ray Noble’s “Cherokee.” The playing is absolutely stunning throughout, a true treat for fans of solo piano jazz.
Silvano Monasterios – Unconditional (Savant Records)
Even before bandleader Silvano Monasterios’ first piano solo, bassist Jon Dadurka steps forward on Unconditional’s opening cut, “Farmacia del Angel.” Dadurka, soloing after the brief but melodic head, establishes a tone the rest of Monasterios’ assembled musicians follow. Unconditional is the fourth album from the Venezuelan pianist, and while its eight original compositions can be considered Latin jazz, the scope of the music defies easy categorization.
Saxophonist Troy Roberts busts out some intense work on “Monsieur Petit Noir,” nearly stealing the track from Monasterios. Roberts proves a valuable ally throughout Unconditional, adding sweet soprano to “Sno’ Peas.” Monasterios relies on Roberts’ sax to guide most of the melodies throughout the album. The other musicians match his standard, with drummer Rodolfo Zuniga and percussionist Jose Gregorio Hernandez combining to create a wide variety of rhythmic textures. “Black Saint” glides on an easy groove that intensifies near its end, with Monasterios’ smooth keys becoming increasingly percussive to match the edgy rhythm section. Unconditional is a stellar collection.