This is a record that probably would have escaped my notice had I not found myself doing some research on a higher-profile release on the same label, the saxophonist and academic Benjamin Boone's Poetry of Jazz tribute to his colleague, the poet Philip Levine. I ended up watching an EPK on YouTube, and, intrigued by what I heard, proceeded to some research on this older gentleman I'd somehow never encountered before with a burnished, classic guitar sound. Much as I enjoyed what I heard, the more I found out, the more I resisted, dubious that a retired UC Berkeley law professor (who is, needless to say, white) was my idea of the future of jazz guitar.
Well, the future he's not. But the past of jazz guitar is pretty sweet.
Cotsirilos relies on a linear approach, rarely delineating let alone strumming chords, and a rather plain harmonic language. Both qualities remind me of Grant Green, one of the most consistently pleasurable of '60s jazz artists for me. Cotsirilos even plays a big old-fashioned hollow-body Gibson jazz box and gets the round, mellow tone you'd expect from it, though a little more veiled than Green's (more like Joe Pass, maybe).
In terms of technique, like Pass or the name-checked Wes Montgomery, he goes for the fireworks more often than Green, and the waterworks less. But generally the atmosphere is - as the impressively Blue Note-esque cover art would suggest - cool and blue, sustained by a program of very attractive, also very Blue Note-esque original hard bop themes. He gets points from me with his nod to a couple of Coltrane arrangements - "Aisha" and "While My Lady Sleeps" - on his own "Lights Out." On all the originals, notes are placed with care, the blues (often of the glassy Kind Of kind) is caressed with feeling and respect, and technique is deployed in the service of expression.
The only exceptions to the mood are the two standards. Cotsirilos starts off his version of "I Wish I Knew" - one of my favorite ballads - with a busy rubato introduction full of Pass-like chords, before the same soft bossa nova rhythm that undergirds Zoot Sims' 1966 version sets him up to make mincemeat of the simple tune in a frantic (and frankly exhausting) display of licks. And, despite all the preening, he never plays the song's beautiful verse! Conversely, the tempo of the Charlie Parker theme "Crazeology" seemingly exceeds his grasp a little. It would be uncouth to suggest that these two tunes show up a touch of dilettantism in the late-blooming Cotsirilos, but he is much more confident, even seductive, on his own tunes. On those the sound world is pristinely classic, a teasingly untroubled sepia-tone image of jazz's bygone days.
One one level, artists like Cotsirilos might be the modern correlative to the semi-pro white Dixieland revivalists that proliferated in the '30s and '40s, in America and especially in Britain. Purists and antiquarians not much interested in anything happening in their own moment - maybe even hostile to it - such artists do not cut an attractive figure to the progressive sensibility. But it's hard to argue with pleasure. Mostly in Blue gives me a lot of pleasure. I'd vastly rather have this emeritus public defender's idyllic vision of jazz's past than Woody Allen's, that's for sure.
A word about the rhythm section, which is sterling. Keith Saunders's piano - alternately conjuring Tommy Flanagan, Red Garland, and occasionally even Herbie Hancock - and Ron Marabuto's somewhat more up-to-date drumming generate a lot of the force and tension of this record. Saunders, Marabuto, and bassist Robb Fisher are a lot of the reason why I recommend this record to those who have burnt out on their guitar Blue Notes.
And hey, at least Cotsirilos didn't title the songs the way a real Blue Note producer might have required - like "By George" or (drawing from his past life) "Objection!" or "Call to the Bar." Mind you, the latter might have been clever. Missed opportunity, professor.