Tuesday , April 16 2024
Two new jazz albums offer some exciting musical explorations.

Music Reviews: Charlie Apicella & Iron City – ‘Big Boss,’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic – ‘Sketches of Spain (Revisited)’

Charlie Apicella & Iron City Jazz – Big Boss

Big Boss has guitarist Charlie Apicella leading Iron City, an organ and guitar-centered ensemble, through a set of original compositions and covers. The arrangements are built on what Apicella calls, in an interview conducted by Sheila Anderson for the liner notes, “a solid structure of grooves.” Call the vibe what you will, whether they’re playing a ballad, or taking it up tempo, whether they’re developing original themes, or working with traditional material, this is a group of musicians with a sound that works like magic.

The first of the album’s four originals is Apicella’s “Idris,” a tune inspired by the funky cymbal work of drummer Idris Muhammed, drivenzoho_ovrutski _8pnl booklet.qxt:8PAN_INSERT.qxd here by drummer Alan Korzin. “Big Boss,” the title song is a tribute to those Apicella calls his bosses, a bit of Wes Montgomery, a little McCoy Tyner, and he even gives a nod to Trane. There are fine solos from Apicella and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. “Amalfi” is a ballad which features Amy Bateman on violin. “In the Grass” has some creative solo work from the tenor sax of Stephen Riley.

The album opens with the Motown hit “I Hear a Symphony,” not a tune you would hear often on a jazz recording. The rest of the disc has the Willie Dixon classic “Spoonful.” Two Grant Green pieces, “The Selma March” and a dynamite version of “Sunday Mornin’” with some fine work from organist Dan Kostelnik, conclude the album.

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic – Sketches of Spain (Revisited)

If you are one of those jazz fans who feel that they have sucked up the Miles Davis/Gil Evans Sketches of Spain album with their mother’s milk, the very notion of someone coming along and doing it again seems like the height of absurdity. You don’t mess with perfection. That, at least, may be the initial reaction.

On further reflection, however, how many recorded versions are there of a Beethoven symphony? Indeed, what is jazz all about if not reimagining music, “revisiting” what may well be perfection?

To this end, Orbert Davis, co-founder, conductor, and artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic chose not to create a pale duplicate of the 1960 Miles Davis album, but rather to honor its emotional honesty and creative intensity, by developing, exploring and expanding its musical ideas.

While the album opens and closes with the two large sections of the original Sketches, the glorious “Concierto de Aranjuez” and “Solea,” the three middle sections have been replaced by two new pieces, “Muerte del Matador” and “El Moreno.” There’s also an arrangement of Issac Albeniz’s “El Albaicin.” The latter, originally written for piano, has been arranged here to highlight the orchestra’s string quartet. The instrumentation throughout the album has been modified with the aim of capturing the spirit of the original.sketches-web-feature

More importantly, Orbert Davis (who does the trumpet soloing on the album) points out that he felt free to develop his own ideas during the improvised passages. O. Davis did not try to be M. Davis.

In the end, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic can never take the place of the original, but that was not the intention. What it can do is stand beside it as its proud spiritual progeny.

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