Gwilym Simcock Trio pay joyful tribute to Jaco at Pizza Express Jazz Club

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Captivating, insightful, lyrical, Gwilym Simcock's 'Jaco Pastorius Project’, featuring the exceptional pianist alongside bass guitar virtuoso Laurence Cottle and much in-demand drummer James Maddren, artfully explored the inner workings of Pastorius’ music in a performance of quite breathtaking beauty and, at times, startling power.

It’s remarkable to think that Pastorius' prime recording years lasted just over a decade, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, during which time he forged a signature sound which completely opened up both the role and the timbral possibilities of the instrument: intricate runs and lead melodic lines, an array of open and false harmonics, muting techniques, double stops, and fluid, sax-like solos. To this day, he’s the only electric bassist to have been inducted into the Downbeat Hall of Fame.

Aside from his piano heroes, Pastorius happens to be Simcock’s favourite jazz instrumentalist. Cottle, of course, has an intimate knowledge of this music, fronting his own Portrait Of Jaco big band which conjures up stunning recreations of the bassist’s ensemble pieces. Taken from his classic 1981 album Word of Mouth, the evening started with ‘Liberty City’ and two contrasting yet equally arresting solos from Simcock and Cottle, the trio channelling that ecstatic quality, a kind of unalloyed joyousness, which Pastorius seemed to be able to tap into at will. 

Wayne Shorter’s ‘Elegant People’, from the 1976 Weather Report album Black Market, elicited a towering solo from Cottle and one of quite astonishing potency and harmonic daring from Simcock.

The pianist also took on the special challenge of arranging a Joni Mitchell song, succeeding brilliantly in capturing that typical Mitchell trait of taking a melodic line for a walk on ‘Jericho’, from her 1977 double album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter on which Pastorius played bass. The song, which almost sounded as if it was being improvised on the spot, was especially noteworthy for the trio's dynamic control, achieving an incredible triple pianissimo at the end. ‘Kuru/Speak Like A Child’ was a showcase for Cottle’s dancing, grooving pocket, while another track from Word of Mouth, ‘Three Views of a Secret’, flaunted Cottle's Jaco-like compendium of tricks, including double stops and harmonics.

Other highlights included a coruscating ‘Young and Fine’ from Weather Report’s Mr Gone, namechecked by Simcock as his favourite Weather Report album, a brace of tracks from Pat Metheny’s remarkable debut album Bright Size Life which featured Pastorius on bass and Bob Moses on drums (the title track plus Ornette Coleman's ‘Road Trip/Broadway Blues’) and a barnstorming ‘(Used To Be A) Cha-Cha’.

As a testament to Pastorius' consummate artistry, both as a composer and performer, this was world class.

– Peter Quinn
– Photo by Lieve Boussaw