Live Jazz: The John Daversa Big Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

By Tony Gieske

Not to dis the Baked Potato, but listening to that great John Daversa big band at Vibrato Tuesday was a revelation to the ear compared to what he sounded like in the venerable but cramped Studio City venue that has been his home.

On the swifter numbers from the Daversa pen, such as “The Bridge” or “You Think You’re Funny,” that auditory appendage could effortlessly reach within the saxophone section to savor the agility of tenor sax men Robby Marshall and Katisse Buckingham, even when they were not soloing.

The rich bass clarinet work of Bob Carr became as clear down below the register as the sound of Harry Carney was above the Duke Ellington sax section or that of  the late Jack Nimitz was above the Supersax group.  And when trumpet player Rob Schaer got romantic in a ballad like “Most of All,” that buttery and sentimental output fit right in with the prosperous-looking couples seated in the generous semi-circle of tables in front of the bandstand.

John Daversa conducts his big band at Vibrato on Tuesday

You could put the whole Baked Potato in there and still have enough room left for Vitello’s upstairs space.  Daversa put this freedom to good use, conducting in a style that physically rivals that of  the Baryshnikovian John Clayton.  But only the band members can really see this.

When Gene Coye puts forth one of  his spacewalking drum solos, or Bob McChesney creates one of his action-packed trombone solos, or Andrew Synowiec rings a few deft changes on his guitar, or Ron King fills a dozen trumpet measures with amazement, Daversa drifts over to the side and quietly digs them.

Even when he’s playing the swinging bejesus out of his electrically enhanced trumpet or his high-tech EVI, Daversa stands in  there with the sax section sidemen, one of the guys.  Of course what the guys are playing all comes from Dr. Daversa’s highly educated pen, which gives them lyrical dissonances, disjointedly coherent tuttis, and a full ration of other, less describable innovations.

It’s really too much to take in, half the time, and we await the band’s forthcoming recording to get under it all.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.


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