For a jazz guitarist, a trio setting -- uniting the featured instrumentalist with the support of just a bassist and a drummer -- is risky. Dispensing with, say, a piano to provide harmonic underpinning or a horn with which to share solo space, a guitarist becomes exposed. It takes a confident leader and an airtight rhythm team to pull off such a project. On his new recording, Variations, the San Francisco-based guitarist George Cotsirilos confirms that his now well-established trio is up to the task and then some. Variations also asserts that the promise of the trio's previous recordings has come to eminently satisfying fruition.
Uniting with bassist Robb Fischer and drummer Ron Marabuto, as he did on the earlier albums, Past Present and On The Rebop, Cotsirilos proves through his effortless mastery that there's still plenty of life in the mainstream guitar tradition. A fluent bop-oriented stylist who mates a sparkling tone with fleet fingered lines, harmonic ingenuity, melodic acuity and a gift for letting space have its own say, Cotsirilos also takes keen advantage of a gift that sets him apart: his ease on both the electric and acoustic guitars.
Where Cotsirilos's command of the electric instrument is given free range on such robust original tunes as the boppish "A Walk for Ethel," the earthy "I Know You Know" and "Blues For The J Man," the lyrical "Chimera," and the sprightly strutting "Madrugadora," his delicate yet bracing acoustic guitar work on Ivan Lins's "Doce Presenca," Fisher's "Sambrosia" and a solo rendition of the standard, "But Beautiful" is equally immediate and affecting.
"I aimed for three things when making Variations," says Cotsirilos. "First, I wanted to capture the deeper communication that's been progressively building between the members of the trio. We are now truly the sum of three equal parts."
"Second, I wanted to express more diversity in terms of instrumental color. It was important to feature both the electric and acoustic guitars and to set off the group performances with a solo setting. Dynamics and tempo were also kept in mind: soft versus loud, slow versus fast -- the trio is comfortable with these variables and I wanted to have them as part of our core sound."
"Lastly, I wanted to take advantage of the space that a trio provides. Not to have to fill it up all the time, as can be the natural approach, but to let the open space speak for itself - let it provide opportunities. You have to be very comfortable with each other in a small group setting to feel that each member can contribute as much or as little as they want to in a given performance, and we have reached that point."
In bassist Robb Fisher (whom Cotsirilos worked with in the popular San Francisco Nighthawks band, which also included the famed Bay-area drummer Eddie Marshall and pianist Paul Nagel) and drummer Ron Marabuto, Cotsirilos has bonded with sympathetic players whose near telepathic union has only sharpened in their seven year tenure as a unit.
A native of Chicago - hence his strong affinity for the blues - George Cotsirilos has become a leading musical fixture of the Sam Francisco music scene. Included among the varied artists he's worked with are Pharaoh Sanders, Etta James, Chuck Israels, Jane Olivor, Mel Martin, and the R&B band, The Whispers. He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and has studied classical guitar at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.