It takes a brave bass player to cover Jaco Pastorius material. It takes a world-class talent to rearrange his material for big band and perform it at Ronnie Scott's. Laurence Cottle and his big band's 'A Portrait of Jaco' managed this feat with finesse.
Cottle had the rare privilege of meeting and spending time with the late Pastorius, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Jaco's back-catalogue helped to treat the crowd to hits both famous and more obscure.
With 2012 marking the 25th anniversary of Pastorius's untimely death, the show threw Cottle's finely-honed skills as an arranger, as well as bassist, into the limelight. Opening with 'Domingo', the band then blitzed through a formidable version of 'Donna Lee' complete with Pastorius's original solo played and harmonised by the woodwind section. Cottle clearly knows Jaco's material inside-out and the delicate attention paid to riffs, stabs and flourishes would have delighted any Jaco officionado.
It's easy to forget, amongst the joy of hearing Jaco's music in such bright and emphatic form, how much work has gone into creating such an epic show. It is not only Cottle's charts that are inventive and explorative, but also the sheer skill of his bass-playing. Effortless would be the wrong word, as many of Jaco's challenging solos and bass lines require a dedicated amount of practise and perfection let alone natural ability, but Cottle's note-perfect recreations of Jaco's solo in 'Used to be a Cha Cha' and tightly swung bass line for 'Liberty City' show that he's possibly the only one truly capable of pulling off a gig of this magnitude. One addition to the show the band did here last year was a blistering rendition of 'Giant Steps', which had Cottle and band playing not only the head but also John Coltrane's original solo, and once again, Cottle's ability was showcased for all to see and hear.
Cottle's bass work was also highlighted thanks to the absence of any other harmony instrument in the band. There's no piano, synth or guitar to back the harmonic changes that regularly dance around those of the original Jaco tracks, so amongst the mayhem Cottle had plenty of space to work with. His immaculate walking lines through 'Donna Lee' were a fantastic foil for the original Jaco solo being played by the saxophones, and served the purpose not only of demonstrating another string to Cottle's considerable bow but also highlighted the genius behind the solo. Jaco's original note selection fits the changes of this jazz standard perfectly and probably represents one of the most melodic and technical pieces of improvisation in bass history.
Cottle had assembled a top-notch band to share the stage with, including longtime collaborator Nigel Hitchcock on sax and Gareth Lockrane on flutes and piccolo. Hitchcock's balance of the sensual and the intense was perfect on 'Three Views of a Secret' and Lockrane (who also weighed in with his own arrangement of 'Punk Jazz') was flawless on his featured tracks 'Used To Be A Cha Cha' and 'Reza'. Cottle and the band paid homage to the little-known album masterpiece 'Holiday For Pans', and the finale of Jaco classics 'Liberty City' and 'The Chicken' had the audience shouting for more.
Jaco's legacy will live on in his music but it takes a special individual to be able to help bring the quality and substance of his compositions to new audiences. With the big band performing his intricate charts to a phenomenal standard, Laurence Cottle is fulfilling this role in exemplary fashion.
A shorter version of this review also appears on London Jazz.