I knew virtually nothing about John Daversa last year when I heard his Progressive Big Band’s album Junk Wagon (BFM Jazz). I had to listen again … and again and again … not to find something good but to re-enforce that my first feeling was right. All this great music coming from a west coast cat whom I was ignorant of. It constantly moved in great directions.
Hip, modern, moving…fucking fun. Rock elements, but never dumbed down. Hip hop used in great fashion. It jumped to my “Best of 2011” list.
Along comes Artful Joy (BFM Jazz) this year, done with a smaller group but, as the superb drummer Peter Erskine says in his album liner notes, having a huge sound. It comes with the same celestial energy, remarkable compositions and take-no-prisoners execution.
Rock elements are present, but the music is invigorating and fresh with plenty of jazz and improv. There are slick grooves with arrangements that make the groove sparkle as well as move the feet. Forget waiting until December: This one is on the 2012 list, no problem. Again, it’s an album that can be listened to over and over. That shit isn’t all that easy today. I’ve been digging this one for weeks.
The music is alive, with vibrant rhythms from Jerry Watts on bass and Gene Coye on drums, along with subtle and effective work by Zane Carney that helps add texture it all. It jumps in hot right from the get-go with some burning trumpet from Daversa on the brief “Seven Grand.” He’s a fine player as well as arranger/bandleader.
The playing of Robby Marshall on tenor sax combines the best qualities of the tenor heritage. Great sound, phrasing. He’s soulful and smooth as silk with a great tone and excellent taste in the stories he tells from soft to cookin’. He's a great voice for this music and one of the major components of the overall feel of this record. He is sweet as hell throughout this disk.
“No Frets No Worries” is a stately ballad led by Daversa’s crisp, strong trumpet voice in combo with Marshall’s horn. The song has a big funky sound, but far from simple. Great solos. “Some Happy S’#t” seamlessly moves from serene to hot and exhilarating.
Going through each song serves no purpose. It’s universally outstanding. But I personally dig “Flirty Girl,” which is a slow vamp -- about as slow as you’ll hear a band play. Gearing down the tempo is not that easy. But bass and drums lock in with funky beats that are verrry hip. Simplified for great effect. Sprinkle in great Electric Valve Instrument (EVI) solo work by Daversa, soulful trumpet, tricky sprinkles of decorative keyboard work, slurpy tenor sax, and it’s a stone cold kick-ass, fun tune. It reminds me of how musicians nowadays use the Miles vehicle “Jean Pierre,” based on a simple riff, and play scorching stuff on top, putting the simplicity to such good use. (Herbie, Marcus Miller, Wayne, Wallace Roney, Robben Ford and others have all done this).
Daversa, who’s been leading his big band for more than 15 years and teaching out on the west coast, is from a musical family and it has served him well. As a player, leader and composer/arranger, this cat is killer.