James Chirillo

Sultry Serenade

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Coming across as a man for all seasons, guitarist James Chirillo's first album as a leader reveals supreme versatility, ease with both jazz and classical idioms, as well as ready facility within the jazz genre, from Swing to Bop. Taking on such an assortment of musical forms is risky. Chirillo gets an A, with the rest of the group falling a little short, earning a B+. The guitarist's dominance can be attributed to his training and experience. Having studied orchestration and composition with classicist and third stream composer, John Carisi, he premieres (on record) Carisi's "Counterpoise #2 for Electric Guitar and Trumpet" with the composer guesting on trumpet. At the other end of the spectrum, Chirillo was the guitar player of choice for Kansas City jazz stylist James "Fiddler" Williams. In between, he has worked with many jazz players with a wide breadth of styles.

All this training and exposure to divergent styles comes together on this album. In addition to the work by Carisi, Chirillo adds another classical piece by the 20th century Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky, the brother-in-law of and sometimes assistant to 12 tone innovator, Arnold Schoenberg. Following the rather solemn Zemlinsky piece, the group segues into a bright, relaxed rendition of "Can't We Be Friends" with everybody sounding relieved. There's good bass by A-one player Greg Cohen. A gayly played "If I Only Had a Brain," from the movie The Wizard of Oz, is a vehicle for Scott Robinson's tenor.

Brazilian vocalist Vera Mara adds her own brand of sultry with a Portugese version of "I Love You, Samantha" on her only appearance on the album, it would have been nice to hear more of her. Chirillo swings on "When Lights are Low" quixotically quoting "I'm Beginning to See the Light." He goes it alone with his electric guitar, except for cymbal trills at the end, on Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" with a sentimental reading touched with solemnity. Swinging bop is represented by Denzil Best's "Move" and straight ahead jazz on "Fancifree" as Randy Sandke gets solo honors. This album with its "renaissance man" play list is recommended.

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