George Cotsirilos – What’s on Your Playlist?

December 17, 2013

A native of Chicago – perhaps explaining his strong affinity for the blues – George Cotsirilos has become a leading musical fixture of the San Francisco music scene. He’s worked with a wide variety of artists, including Pharaoh Sanders, Etta James, Chuck Israels, Jane Olivor, Mel Martin, and the R&B band The Whispers.  Cotsirilos was co-leader of the acclaimed San Francisco Nighthawks, which included drummer Eddie Marshall, Bobby McFerrin pianist Paul Nagel, and former Cal Tjader bassist Robb Fisher.

The George Cotsirilos Trio, featuring bassist Fischer and drummer Ron Marabuto, has earned wide acclaim and their newest disc, Variations (OA2/Origin Records), shows just why the six-string virtuoso is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after guitarists in the Bay Area. Cotsirilos’ effortless mastery of the instrument and the near telepathic union of his trio make this an album not to miss.

1.  Five Centuries Of Spanish GuitarAndres Segovia

While virtually everything recorded by the great Segovia is significant, this recording includes a repertoire from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries, putting Segovia’s mastery on display in a variety of compositions. The result is a paradigm of sensitivity, technique, and touch applicable to any musical context. To me, Segovia’s unsurpassed exploitation of the guitar’s color palate is a model, not only for the acoustic guitarist, but for any instrumentalist.

2. The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961Bill Evans

It is amazing how timeless these recordings are. They were ground breaking when made and remain as definitive works of jazz trio communication, replete with perfect use of space and dynamics. Every time you come back to them, you can hear something new and even surprising in the uncanny communication between Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. The recordings are a bottomless wellspring of beauty.

3. Whisper Not Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette

Like those of Bill Evans, the Keith Jarrett trio recordings are all great, but this is a two-disc set that has a special sprinkling of bebop, including Bud Powell tunes, that accompanies the usual Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette collection of beautiful standards and moving ballads. The almost telepathic communication between these masters exemplifies the supremely difficult jazz trio vehicle at the highest level.

4. Live In Europe 1967The Miles Davis Quintet-The Bootleg Series, Vol. I

This relatively recently released three-CD set of intense musical explorations is fascinating, par-ticularly when reviewed next to the quintet’s very different Live At The Plugged Nickel recordings made two years earlier. The grouping of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams was as great a quintet as ever there was, and the extent to which they pushed rhythmic and harmonic boundaries is astonishing.

5. The Complete Riverside RecordingsWes Montgomery

This collection puts the bulk of Wes Montgomery’s small group recordings, including the great organ trio sessions, in one large and expensive package, but it is more than worth it. As opposed to his more orchestrated releases, these recordings show all sides of Wes and why he is justifiably regarded as such a great master of the jazz guitar.

6. First EditionGeorge Shearing and Jim Hall

While the wonderful Jim Hall Trio and Jim Hall/Ron Carter duo recordings are always on my play list, this CD, like the great Bill Evans/Jim Hall recordings, underscores how chord instruments can enhance each other to beautiful effect. These two great musicians are always listening and seem to leave the perfect amount of space for each other. One can look far and wide and never find a more beautiful guitar solo than the one Jim Hall lays down on “I See Nothing To Laugh About.”

7. Blue TraneJohn Coltrane

As with all the greats, it is a little touchy to single out a Coltrane recording, particularly one apart from his great McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison quartet, but this is an easy one to keep coming back to. You get Coltrane accompanied by a front line with Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller, backed by Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. You also get them playing blues, “I’m Old Fashioned” and the soaring Coltrane classics “Moment’s Notice” and “Lazy Bird,” which is about as good as it gets.

8. QuietJohn Scofield

Everyone knows how great a guitarist and composer John Scofield is, but this CD merits a special place among his many fine recordings. Here he takes the risk of departing from his signature electric guitar sound in favor of the classical acoustic guitar. He plays it beautifully in the context of his fine compositions and equally fine arrangements for a stellar ensemble that includes Wayne Shorter taking stunning solos.

9. Question and Answer Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes

Like Scofield, Pat Metheny has created a whole library of great recordings, compositions and guitar virtuosity, including excellent trio recordings; however, by combining him with the inimitable Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, I think this trio recording stands with his best. It also includes a nice combination of fine Metheny compositions, standards and tunes by Ornette Coleman, as well as Miles Davis.

10. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

This first Butterfield album is a personal favorite because, as a kid growing up in Chicago, the Butterfield Blues Band opened up incredible vistas for me, including B.B., Freddie, and Albert King, Muddy Waters, and other blues greats. My first music gigs were with blues bands and it is at the root of everything, so it is always fun to return to the blues records, including this one. Nothing enhances a drive on an open, rural freeway more than putting on “Born In Chicago,” the first track from this CD.

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