Gwilym Simcock: Tribute to Jaco @ Pizza Express, 19th August 2013

gwilym simcockIt’s a sobering thought that bass master Jaco Pastorius would have turned 64 this December had he not tragically died in 1987. Whilst he has since been rightfully acknowledged as the Charlie Parker of electric bass, his compositions have arguably never really been given enough recognition, partly due to his ‘sideman’ roles with some of the biggest names in the business (Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny), partly due to his tragically short life, and possibly partly because he used so many different formats on his three solo albums (big band, orchestra, solo bass, steel pans, fusion trio/quartet/quintet/sextet).

But nonetheless many believe that had he lived longer, Jaco may have produced a body of work comparable to Mingus, a bold claim but certainly no long-shot when one considers his legacy: ‘Punk Jazz’, ‘City Of Angels’, ‘Teen Town’, ‘Three Views Of A Secret’, ‘John and Mary’ etc.

So it was a real treat to see this gig appearing in the Pizza Express schedule, and a nice surprise for a pianist – and one as open-minded and generous as Simcock – to celebrate Jaco’s influence rather than a bassist or guitarist. For – as Herbie Hancock acknowledged in his liner notes to Jaco’s stunning debut album – Pastorius had the harmony, chords and single-note lead playing covered. He could groove as well as anyone but also made the instrument fly; it’s no surprise two of his heroes were James Brown and Stravinsky.

Simcock began the gig with a lengthy introduction about Jaco, touching on his mental illness, career highpoints and shocking death. His enthusiasm for Jaco’s music was infectious and he littered the gig with anecdotes and heartfelt recommendations. ‘Liberty City’ seemed a natural opener and worked brilliantly in trio format with drummer James Maddren admirably underplaying. Although Wayne Shorter’s ‘Elegant People’, in its original form, didn’t feature Jaco on bass, he did cover it on the hard-to-find Holiday For Pans album. Though a bit too brisk, its harmonies brought tingles to the spine. Zawinul’s ‘Young and Fine’ was a great choice – I’ve always wondered why it isn’t covered more. Slightly disappointing though was its regimented ‘post-disco’ groove taken from the original – it might have been nice to have played this in a swing style.

Maddren struggled to get out of second gear during Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’, but Joni Mitchell’s ‘Jericho’ was graced with a brilliant intro by Simcock, summarising and juggling the tune’s themes, while Cottle produced a beautifully judged solo over tricky, non-linear changes. ‘Kuru/Speak Like A Child’ slightly lacked forward motion but Simcock’s elegance (and occasional quoting of Herbie’s sublime solo on the original) shone through.

The ‘Continuum/Blackbird/Reza’ medley was rough and ready (and again a little too fast) but good fun. ‘Three Views’ was very moving despite Maddren’s rather rigid blues/R’n’B feel, but he finally woke up on a blistering medley of Ornette’s ‘Round Trip/Broadway Blues’, putting some welly into his kick drum. The beauty and innocence of Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ touchingly brought to life the gentle, tender side of Jaco’s soundworld (and personality), while the closing ‘Used To Be a Cha-Cha’ was simply world-class, a superb, dynamic performance.

So no ‘Teen Town’, ‘Havona’ or ‘City Of Angels’ – but no matter. An uplifting, sometimes moving night of music and memories.


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