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

By Don Heckman

There’s a lot to be said for the kitchen at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  The cuisine is not only haut, it’s also tasty, diversified and appealing.  Just like the music.  And there’s a lot to be said for that, too. Combined, they make for memorable evenings.

The club’s Music Director and resident bassist, Pat Senatore enhances his far-ranging choice of performers with a regular seasoning of L.A.’s finest local artists.  In any given week, there are frequent opportunities to sample the Southland’s extraordinary range of musical talent.

On Saturday night, it was trumpeter John Daversa, backed by the stellar rhythm team of pianist Otmaro Ruiz, drummer Kendall Kay and bassist Senatore.

Otmaro Ruiz, Pat Senatore, John Daversa, Kendall Kay

Daversa comes by his playing skills naturally.  (His father is the well-known trumpeter Jay Daversa, whose playing can be heard on more than 200 movies and television shows.) But John has more than found his own way in the past decades.  Working as a busy sideman, fronting his own groups – including a big band performing his envelope-stretching arrangements – and teaching jazz classes at CalState Northridge, he’s thoroughly established his own significant presence among the L.A. jazz elite.

“But I like gigs like this, too, as much as the more high visibility dates,” said Daversa between sets.  “Sometimes it’s fun to just play tunes.”

Which is exactly the feeling that resonated through the two sets of mostly familiar tunes by Daversa, Ruiz, Kay and Senatore.  Each was a delight in itself.

Opening with “Bye, Bye Blackbird, Daversa’s warm, vocalized tone was applied to the familiar line with the same kind of respect for space present in Miles Davis – clearly an influence on Daversa’s musical thinking.

“Sunny Side of the Street” was done in a gentle groove, with Daversa leading the way, and Senatore stepping to stage center with an articulate bass solo.

On “Corcovado,” Daversa switched to a mellow-sounding flugel horn, and pianist Ruiz uncovered his best, guitar-like bossa nova comping. And here, too, Daversa’s phrasing was everything, telling a melodic story in a style perfectly reflecting Miles Davis’ famous insistence that “the silences are as important as the sounds.”

Other tunes were equally appealing:  among them, an intimate take on Cole Porter’s “I Love You” featuring atmospheric soloing from Ruiz and Kay, and a lyrical, but swinging “Like Someone In Love.”

The only flaw in this otherwise utterly engaging evening – which had opened with the superb duo of pianist Jeff Colella and bassist Putter Smith – was the familiar noisy crowd at Vibrato’s bar.  On most nights, it’s pretty much of a given that anything short of a roaring big band is going to have to deal with waves of competitive, bar-generated audio (noise).

Fortunately, in the capable hands of artists such as the Daversa quartet and the Colella duo, the music has so much of a life of its own that it doesn’t just survive, it triumphs.  And that’s another one of the good things to be said about Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Photo and video by Faith Frenz.


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