San Francisco Bay Area guitarist/songwriter George Cotsirilos delves deeper into his explorations with the quartet’s new date “Refuge,” due May 20 on OA2 Records

“Refuge”, the new CD of the George Cotsirilos Quartet.

[During the pandemic] it was getting harder and harder to try on the parts, so it took a while to get them to a point where we were all happy with them. But I was sure it would all come together.

Georges Cotsirilos crosses new borders with the May 20 release of “Refuge” (OA2). The guitarist and songwriter’s sequel to his acclaimed 2018 album ‘Mostly in Blue’ again features his quartet – pianist Keith Saunders, bassist Robb Fisher and drummer Ron Marabuto – but repositions them both in pursuit of new challenges. and, on the contrary, even more “in blue”.

Cotsirilos added piano to his longtime trio in 2018, hoping to express the denser harmonies he was hearing in his writing. The success of the experience encouraged him to move forward, creating a set of more complex and blues-hardened compositions. (He honestly comes from that seasoning: Although based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cotsirilos was born and raised in Chicago.)

The lockdowns and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic have given her the opportunity to explore a variety of music and assimilate it into her own work. However, it also hampered his ability to learn new material with the band. “It was getting harder and harder to try on the pieces, so it took a while to get them to a point where we were all happy with them,” says Cotsirilos. “But I was confident…that everything would be fine.”

Indeed, coming together he did. From the lavish melody and harmonies of ‘Refuge’, to the sexy and devious Latin groove of ‘Igualmente’, to the seductive intricacies of ‘Aftermath’ and ‘Let’s Make a Break for It’, Refuge is every inch the work of a adept and very tuned together. It’s clear that players know not only compositions intimately, but also the possibilities they offer.

While Cotsirilos is the leader and composer of the album, the quartet operate on an equal footing. The pieces require close interaction between the four musicians – the completeness of “A Faint Light” depends on the pocket they create – and even the solos achieve their high caliber thanks to the chemistry of the full band. Cotsirilos’ Byzantine line on “Planet Roxoid” succeeds thanks to Saunders anticipating his every step, and the guitarist pays for it with an equally empathetic accompaniment from Fisher’s bass solo on “The Three Doves.”

Cotsirilos claims to have been inspired by recordings of Beethoven’s cello sonatas because, he says, they were written with the aim “that the instruments reinforce each other”. His work with his quartet on “Refuge” leaves no doubt that this is so.

George Cotsirilos was born in Chicago in 1951. His passion for music was stimulated by an aunt and uncle – the former was a classical music lover who encouraged him to play the violin; the latter was a former drummer who took him to listen to Louis Armstrong. The Chicago blues revival during his teenage years made George devote himself to the electric guitar.

In 1969, Cotsirilos enrolled at UC Berkeley. A graduate in sociology, he briefly left school halfway through his studies to play guitar in a blues band. When he re-enrolled at Berkeley, he separately became a student of Warren Nunes, a legendary guitarist in East Bay musical circles. Nunes brought Cotsirilos into the grip of jazz, learning about great guitarists as well as the ideas and techniques of other instrumentalists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chick Corea.

Even as he studied music more seriously – training in classical guitar at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music – Cotsirilos earned his degree in sociology, then earned a law degree. He pursued a dual career for years as a criminal rights advocate and lecturer at the prestigious Berkeley Law School, while performing alongside Pharoah Sanders, Etta James, famed drummer Eddie Marshall and stalwarts of the Bay Area Mel Martin and Mark Levine. He released his first solo album, “Silenciosa”, in 2003, followed by three trio albums with Fisher and Marabuto.

In 2017, around the same time he expanded his trio into a quartet (with Saunders on piano), Cotsirilos retired from the legal profession and devoted himself full-time to music. “Refuge” is one of the beneficiaries of this decision, as are jazz audiences.

The George Cotsirilos Quartet will perform CD release shows on Saturdays. 5/21 at Bird & Beckett, San Francisco (7:30 p.m.); Sat. 5/28 at Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio, San Francisco (6:00 p.m.); and Sat. 6/4 at The Backroom, Berkeley (8:00 p.m.).

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