John Daversa: Junk Wagon


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You know how I'm always carping that jazz doesn't push hard enough to get to the next level? And you know how you email me to ask what exactly I have in mind to illustrate my point? Two words: John Daversa. His first studio CD, Junk Wagon: The Big Band Album is positively fascinating. Unlike many big band outings today that tend to be experimental and tough to chew on for the non-musician, Daversa's new album is an ambitious merging of rock, jazz-funk and big band styles. And it features all original compositions and and arrangements by Daversa.

I knew nothing about Daversa before this CD tumbled in with the mail several days ago. But once I put it on, I was completely in love. It's new and exciting. It's never dull. And it's always reaching for a new jazz style that's both novel and familiar. This isn't retro-Riddle or 22d century space race stuff. There are classical and classic jazz touches, but neither lingers too long before exploding into something fresh and dynamic.

From his website, I learned that Daversa is a Los Angles musician. This from his bio:

“He attended UCLA, studying composition and trumpet with virtuosi Mario Guarneri and Malcolm McNab. Although Daversa's musical interests were firmly placed in jazz, he studied classical composition to deepen his understanding of the art.  During that time, Daversa's jazz skills won him the Herb Alpert Award, David Joel Miller Award, National Trumpet Competition, ITG Jazz Soloist Competition, and he was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition."

To fully appreciate Daversa's music, you have to suspend your traditional big band ears. This is an intersection of several music forms and styles, all held together with compelling melody lines and textured instrumentation. Reeds and electronica. Trombones and funky bass lines. At times, pieces feel like the FM dial when it's between stations and you can't decide which one you want. Orchestrations build smartly and know when and how long to remain far out. No two pieces tell the same story, and all nine tracks have a next-generation sensibility.  

For example, Internal opens with a syntheizer and accoustic guitar. Flutes are added, along with trumbones, drums and percussion. Then come fusion elements, such as heavier drumming and electric guitar. The big band makes repeated appearances behind the synthesizer. About two-thirds into the track, the synthesizer turns rock with the big band running jazz. Every tune brings these types of orchestral surprises.

Or dig Most of All, a ballad. Daversa's orchestration rises and falls with sighing grace reminiscent of Johnny Mandel's tender approach. Think I'm exaggerating? Hear it for yourself.

John Daversa is pioneering a new jazz sound. I only hope it pays well enough for him to establish a strong foothold so he can carry on.

JazzWax tracks: John Daversa's Junk Wagon: The Big Band Album (BFM) is available at iTunes or here.

JazzWax clip: Here's a clip of John Daversa's big band in the recording studio for this album...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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