It seems as though every time the mourning for the passing of big jazz bands begins, something comes along to recall Mark Twain's famous remark about the premature reports of his demise. On Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, trumpeter-bandleader John Daversa's roaring big band provided a potent reminder that there's still plenty of life in the familiar assemblage of saxophones, trumpets, trombones and rhythm.
There were two factors that made the performance special. The first was the quality of the musicians. Daversa clearly can attract many of the Southland's finest players--Wayne Bergeron in the trumpet section, Alan Ferber with the trombones, Tom Peterson on tenor saxophone, John Guerin on drums, to name a few--to the relatively rare appearances by his ensemble.
The second, related to the first, was the quality of the music. The program of original pieces that Daversa placed in front of his 16-piece band was not easy. Filled with tricky ensemble passages, rapid tempos and a substantial number of works in unusual meters--5/4 and 7/4 among them--it was precisely the sort of program that talented young players love to test themselves against. And the grades for this outing were all superlative.
Equally important, Daversa revealed a knack for writing music that--despite its complexity--never sacrificed its capacity to communicate. Even when the band was steaming through a tough piece in 7/4, the rhythm was rocking, and the near-capacity crowd was finding ways to tap their feet to the disjunct metric pattern. And credit Guerin, bassist David Enos and guitarist Justin Morell for managing the difficult task of energizing the ensemble passages while simultaneously galvanizing the rhythm.
Daversa handled much of the soloing on trumpet and on electronic wind instrument controller, often recalling--especially in the offbeat metric pieces--the work of Don Ellis. Peterson and alto saxophonist Kotisse Buckingham contributed some fiery soloing, and Morell's work had the quality of a young star in the making.
But the spotlight position belonged to the band. And with organizations like the Daversa ensemble generating creative excitement, expect big jazz bands to be with us well into the next millennium. Now if only some astute record company would give this talented aggregation a record deal.