James Chirillo: Sultry Serenade (2000)

By    C. MICHAEL BAILEY,      Published: November 1, 2000 “All About Jazz”

James Chirillo: Sultry Serenade

Move. James Chirillo debuts as a leader with a superb guitar jazz disc. As soon as I would like to compare Mr. Chirillo to, say, a Joe Pass, a Herb Ellis, or a Charlie Byrd, I would just as soon say he was a Teddy Wilson on guitar. Urbane, that is how I would describe James Chirillo. He is more Oscar Peterson than Art Tatum and more Gene Harris than either. Chops to spare, Chirillo wastes no notes. He is precise, like Basie and Miles. His recital here, with various sized groups is an exercise in elegant restraint. No death defying arpeggios, only clear, clean playing.

There are the usual standards. “When The Lights Are Low” and “Lush Life” are well played standard fare. “If I Only Had a Brain”, to my knowledge only covered by Tuck Andress, is grandly executed here. It is definitely not the standards that are most interesting here. It is the classical pieces. One is a tone poem composed by John “Israel” Carisi shortly before his death. “Counterpoise” is a moody duet for trumpet and guitar with Carisi himself providing the trumpet. “Elend”, a tome by the 20thCentury Zemlinski, adds more to the reputation of these classical capabilities.

Otherwise, this is a grand mainstream fare. Randy Sandke, a N-H regular, is on hand, adding his regular brand of panache and aplomb. As for Chirillo, he is superb, a talent awaiting the appropriate recognition. I will be voting for him as best jazz guitarist in the 2000 polls.
Track Listing: When The Lights Are Low; I Love You, Samantha; Sultry Serenade; Counterpoise #2; If I Only Had A Brain, Move; Elend; Can’t We Be Friends; Bourbon; Lush Life; I’m Always Chasing Rainbows; Fancifree; Blues For Valerie. (Total Time: 71:57)

Personnel: James Chirillo: Guitar; Alan Simon: Piano; Greg Cohen: Bass; Dave Ratajczak: Drums, Percussion; Randy Sandke: Trumpet; Scott Robinson: Tenor Saxophone, Bass Saxophone; Vera Mara: Vocals; John Carisi: Trumpet.


James Chirillo:  Sultry Serenade

By Jim Ferguson,    Published: Jan/Feb 2001    “Jazz Times”

If you dig jazz guitar that’s particularly smooth and cool, then you’ll want to check out James Chirillo, who’s performed with Tiny Grimes and Benny Goodman.

Chirillo’s playing sneaks up on you. His reading of heads is pretty basic: it’s lyrical but sticks to the ink for the most part. But that’s right before he begins to swing, develops his solo and, in the bargain, attracts your attention. Cases in point include “When Lights Are Low,” “If I Only Had a Brain” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” all of which find him negotiating myriad chord changes with apparent ease. But Chirillo can also step out of the box, so to speak. On a Latin version of “I Love You, Samantha,” he sensitively supports Vera Mara’s sultry vocal on acoustic guitar, moving on to contribute an elegantly understated solo. Then there’s his foray into the formal on John Carisi’s “Counterpoise #2 for Electric Guitar and Trumpet” and his own “Blues for Valerie,” which displays his compositional chops and improvisational abilities in the context of a subdued blues.

While it’s a bit surprising that this is Chirillo’s first recording as leader, it’s a safe bet it won’t be his last.


James Chirillo:  Sultry Serenade

By Marcus A. Woelfle,      Published: May 2000    “Rondo”

“His sensational debut as a leader”, is the snappy boast under the title. It pleases this reviewer, across whose desk blow ever greater numbers of bagatelles disguised as sensations, for once not to have to contradict the claim.  The guitarist James Chirillo, up to now a sideman on recordings with such diverse giants as Benny Goodman and Joe Lovano, has had to wait till the age of 47 before presenting his well-deserved debut.  The only precedent that occurs to me is the case of Johnny Collins, who recorded his debut album only at the age of 69.

James Chirillo is an incredibly multifaceted musician, a swinging eclecticist, in the best sense of the word.  His roots reach far back into the pre-electric era of the history of the guitar. On some pieces, he reminds one of the great chord soloists of the ’30’s, such as Dick McDonough and Carl Kress, and of the great swing rhythm guitarists like Freddie Green. But he has also integrated into his original style everything that has happened in the framework of the swinging modern tradition since Charlie Christian, be it bop or bossa, cool or funky.

He is capable of much, though the hot, the loud, the sweat-inspiring is less his style than the restrained and the lyrical.  At times, he sounds like a somewhat hotter Barney Kessel.  As an improviser, Chirillo is no firebrand, rather a calm builder, who goes to his work with a plan. As a result, he is also a sought-after arranger, who is enamoured of details (e.g., his interesting reharmonisation of ‘Lush Life’), and who charms with his eccentric, tastefully arranged repertoire, ranging from a third stream composition, which he recorded as a duo with the cool trumpeter Johnny Carisi shortly before his death, to ‘New Orleans Parade’, from the bebop warhorse ‘Move’, to an adaptation of the Alexander Zemlinsky song ‘Elend’, which, without suffering any major modifications, sounds astonishingly like a moving blues.

Chirillo is as well a considerable composer; for his wife, he has written a ‘Blues for Valerie’ that might well have been written by Ellington.  The handpicked choice of comrades-in-arms changing from piece to piece that includes pianist Alan Simon, bassist Greg Cohen, drummer Dave Ratajczak, saxophonist Scott Robinson, singer Vera Mara and, above all, the splendid trumpeter Randy Sandke, leaves nothing to be desired.

Translation from German by Tom Artin