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Charlie Apicella and Iron City Meet the Griots Speak: Destiny Calling

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Charlie Apicella and Iron City Meet the Griots Speak: Destiny Calling
Since the early 2000s, guitarist Charlie Apicella's Iron City trio has devoted itself to maintaining the tradition of soulful, organ-based jazz. The aptly-titled Groove Machine (OA2 Records, 2019) preceded Destiny Calling, the group's 2023 album. And the latest one is quite a change-up. For this outing, Apicella has teamed up with The Griots Speak, an all-star assemblage of veterans who trace their roots to the halcyon days of the New York loft scene of the 1970s: multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, percussionist Juma Sultan, and bassist William Parker. While the grooves are just as present, so too is a certain freedom and a chance- taking spirit that push the music to new and interesting places.

When digging into "Titan vs. Sphinx," the second cut on the album, it is not bold and brash organists like Dr. Lonnie Smith or Big John Patton that come to mind, but rather the more mysterious Joe Zawinul, circa late-1960s/early-70s projects like Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969), where the organ serves as much to provide color and texture as to serve as a rhythmic or melodic anchor. Much of Destiny Calling has that feel of those legendary Davis recordings, like Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) or Miles at the Fillmore (Columbia, 1970), where a readiness for the unexpected was part of the experience. Here, though, the emphasis is on shorter, more compact pieces that land typically in the three to five-minute range, rather than the more rambling excursions on Davis' releases. Apicella's instincts run to songs that do not overstay their welcome, and the emphasis is always on the rhythm, so the trio likes to keep things moving, without much meandering.

Parker's bass plays a major role in bringing tautness to these pieces, with the kind of propulsive ostinato grooves that so frequently appear on his own releases. Catchy medium-tempo tunes like "We're All Here in Spirit" and "If You Know Where to Look" are cases in point, with Parker's rock-solid steadiness giving the pieces their driving momentum, even as he elasticizes the pulse from time to time, as he does on the latter cut.

As for the other veterans, Carter does a little of just about everything, whether it be soprano sax ("Titan vs. Sphinx"), clarinet ("As the Sun Rises"), and even a bit of both flute and piano ("If You Know Where to Look"). He possesses a quiet confidence throughout, with a savvy sense of how he can enhance the whole without dominating the proceedings. His languid tenor sax on "Where Do You Find these People" strikes the ideal balance between assertion and restraint, with brief, clipped phrases that fit perfectly with the piece's easy stroll, until the pace quickens substantially toward its close and he stretches out more emphatically. And Sultan's percussive variety adds plenty of richness to the music, with his work on the congas an especially enlivening component of "I Heard in Passing," perhaps the album's most adventurous cut, with a more malleable tempo and free-ranging feel than the rest of the record.

Destiny Calling is a fine example of the alchemical possibilities that can result from putting players of different generations, temperaments and idioms in the same room together, just to see what can happen. A winning effort that hopefully presages more to come.

Track Listing

As the Sun Rises; Titan vs. Sphinx; Juma's Song / Maliki Melasha; We're All Here in Spirit; It's Alright to Run; I Heard in Passing; If You Know Where to Look; Where Do You Find These People?; Sparks.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Daniel Carter: flute, clarinet, trumpet, piano; Charlie Apicella: madal drum, Tibetan singing bowls; William Parker: doson ngoni, gralla, gembiri, pocket trumpet; Brad Whiteley, organ.

Album information

Title: Destiny Calling | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: OA2 Records


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