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John Daversa Big Band at The Baked Potato

Paul Naser By

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John Daversa Big Band
The Baked Potato
Los Angeles, CA
May 29, 2016

It's a rarity to find a modern big band dedicated to playing original music in Los Angeles; home to some of the world's most talented musicians and entertainers, pretty much every style of music imaginable is represented here, but often a big band show celebrates music of the past more than it looks to the future. John Daversa's big band does the latter. Exclusively.

This is no news to fans of Daversa's who have followed his career for years and who recently celebrated the release of his newest record, Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles. These same fans packed the house Sunday night at that storied L.A. joint, The Baked Potato, and proved that big band music isn't going anywhere, with help from innovative arrangements played by a killing band of course.

From the opening notes of the first tune, it was obvious that both the band and the crowd were happy to be back. Daversa's big band built a strong following during it's long time residency at The Baked Potato, but since his move to Miami, what was once a regular hang has become a less frequent yet just as joyful occasion. Beginning with one of the Beatles arrangements, his high energy take on "I Saw Her Standing There," Daversa quickly relaxed into his role as a bandleader. Half dancing, half conducting, he led the band through the driving setting of the melody until the rhythm section took over for the funky solo section, which featured lead alto Jeff Driskill. Daversa took the second solo, playing with the backgrounds as if they were part of his own improvisation.

The band continued with "Camels," a Daversa original that has been in their book for years. The slow opening features beautiful playing and harmonies from the woodwinds, but the real stars were the trombone soloists. Both Paul Young and Jon Hatamiya took the audience for a ride as drummer Gene Coye both supported and pushed them.

The highlights of the evening were yet to come, though. With, as John told the audience afterwards, no rehearsal, guest vocalist Maiya Sykes delivered jaw dropping performances of the two vocal features from Kaleidoscope Eyes. From the opening notes of "Do You Want to Know a Secret?," Sykes' rich tone filled the room and proceeded to float beautifully atop Daversa's lush orchestration. More impressive still was her delivery of his tricky re-imagination of "Good Day Sunshine." Featuring consistently changing meters and complex accents, Sykes not only sang her parts flawlessly, she sang in harmony with the band, ad libbing parts that weren't even on the record. Needless to say, the audience was floored by her artistry.

The band closed their set with a Daversa favorite, "Some Happy Sh*t." Switching meters constantly, this up-tempo and, no surprise here, happy tune gives Daversa the opportunity to show the versatility and range of his EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument).

The band was on fire, and if the talk floating around the room was any indication, they were just continuing the trend for the weekend, having played an "epic" show the night before. Sunday listeners certainly didn't leave feeling like they missed out, that's for certain; getting to hear Maiya Sykes bring the Beatles melodies to life was incredible to watch. We can only hope we get to hear her do it again in the near future.

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