Unassuming and without airs, George Cotsirilos' guitar snakes through Past Present with velvety simplicity. The new record from his trio, comprised also of bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto, is a fulfilling ten-song set that rises and falls like the smoke from a good cigar.
Out now on OA2/Origin Records, Past Present is a delight. Filled with standards and a host of original compositions by Cotsirilos, the album is a quiet, gentle entry in the artist's discography.
The Chicago-born Cotsirilos studied violin in grade school and moved on to piano by high school. By the mid-'60s, he developed an admiration for B.B. King and the Paul Butterfield Blues band and picked up the guitar. Cotsirilos moved out West and studied with jazz guitar instructor Warren Nunes for years before touring with The Whispers. After performing with a wide collection of jazz and blues artists, including Etta James, he founded the San Francisco Nighthawks along with Fisher and pianist Paul Nagel.
With Past Present, Cotsirilos pays homage to the gifts of the past while remaining fixated firmly in the now.
The tracks make excellent use of the understated nature of the jazz trio, flowing easily through solos and a range of unified playing with the gauzy professionalism only managed by the most in-tune musicians.
Evidence of this unity is found on the standards, like "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Bittersweet." The group folds around the melodies as though they were original compositions. Cotsirilos expertly bends the notes on the Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern original, adding slight flair to the familiar tones.
Cotsirilos' original compositions are no less mesmerizing. His "Good Wood" opens the record with what seems like an homage to his guitar. He wrote the song under the influence of Cedar Wilson and the melody takes some getting used to before it sinks in to the pores of the listener.
"Franny's Jump," a tune written for an old college pal, exemplifies the band's unison playing with soft but insistent drumming and some snappy fretwork. Cotsirilos switches from chords to lines of notes precisely.
Past Present is one of those records that takes some time to evolve fully. Like a fine wine, the flavours and aromas dance before settling in to a complete sense of things. The playing of Cotsirilos and the backing of Fisher and Marabuto is elegant, smooth and charming, making Past Present a truly satisfying trio recording.