John Daversa Small Band at the CAP
Sherman Oaks, CA
January 22, 2014
Fans of John Daversa's music range in age from young people still in school to people who have been avid fans of jazz music for decades. Seeing the wide variety of people in the room was testament to how appealing Daversa's composing is, and the happy, excited chatter in the room was evidence of just how good this band is.
The John Daversa Small Band's show was part of Jazz at the CAP, a weekly performance series at the CAP (Complete Actors Place) Studio in Sherman Oaks, CA that features some of the finest musicians in the Los Angeles area. The Small Band consisted of John Daversa himself on trumpet and EVI (electronic valve instrument); Katisse Buckingham on alto sax, flute, percussion and sometimes, when we're lucky, vocalizations; Robbie Marshall on tenor sax; Dennis Hamm on keys, subbing for regular member Tommy King; Jerry Watts, Jr. on electric bass; Gene Coye on drums and Travis Flournoy providing visual projections on two large screens. The band mostly played material from their latest release, Artful Joy (BFM, 2012).
Daversa began the first set with an a cappella introduction to the first tune. Spontaneity and improvisation are at the heart of his music and of the experience at a Small Band show; nobody knew what the first song was going to be until he began playing it. The catchy, rhythmically driven melody was easily recognizable to the band and fans as "Cheeks," Daversa's tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. The inspired playing from everyone in the band set the tone for the evening.
The band continued with "Flirty Girl," whose quiet intensity and space were a perfect complement to the busy excitement of the opener. Drummer Gene Coye and bassist Jerry Watts are remarkably impressive here. Their ability to keep not only a solid pulse, but an incredible feel at such a slow tempo and with so much space, keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and lays a comfortable foundation for everyone improvising.
"Hara Angelina" was next; written for Daversa's daughter, the album version features vocalist Gretchen Parlato. The beautiful melody was the first one of the night to showcase Daversa's EVI, an instrument as appealing because of its interesting looks as the unique sounds and extension of range it produces.
Introducing the next tune, Daversa invited the crowd to cheer and yell for Robby Marshall, who begins "C'mon Robby Marshall" with an a cappella solo. It was less than two weeks since I had seen the band last, and Marshall's solos were worlds apart, showcasing the wealth of material in his bag. His soulful playing carried the tune and got everyone in the room excited.
The closer of the first set was "Some Happy Shit," a crowd favorite whose high energy performance was a perfect half cadence for the evening's show. The song featured a fiery solo from Jerry Watts and was a highlight of the night.
After some socializing, the band began the second set with "Quo," a Robby Marshall composition. The laid back tune allowed everyone in the band opportunity to stretch and play with time, creating a lot of tension as they pushed and pulled (mostly pulled) collectively. "Quo" transitioned directly into "Players Only," which worked very well; the moods of both songs made them blend seamlessly.
"Junk Wagon," which is the title of one of Daversa's big band records (BFM, 2011), works equally well with his small ensemble. Featuring Gene Coye with an unbelievable solo, this tune was another highlight of the evening, leaving everyone in the crowd mesmerized.
"Shelly's Guitar" was the final song of the evening; its name was inspired by the fact that it was written on a guitar. Rarely do songs in 7 feel as comfortable or groove as much as this one did, and it made an ideal closer.
John and the band received a standing ovation as the audience bade him farewell, at least for a while. Daversa recently began a new teaching position as Department Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami, and Los Angeles is happy to welcome him back home every chance they get, as was made clear by the standing-room-only crowd at the CAP. Make sure to keep an eye out for all the great work Daversa is doing with his big band, which recently started a monthly residency at the ShapeShifter Lab in New York, and for all the other players in the band, each of whom is involved in many other projects in the Los Angeles area.