John Daversa Quintet
Cuarentena: With Family at Home
John Daversa has been amazingly impressive in his career by especially in the past couple of years. His 2018 American dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom earned him three Grammys, Including Best Large Jazz Ensemble, Best Improvised Solo and Best Instrumental Arrangement of A Capella. More recently he was a sideman and principal arranger on Regina Carter’s Freedom Band’s Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground. He is back as a leader for the eighth time, leading a quintet for this paean of sorts to the pandemic, Cuarentena: With Family at Home. Daversa is globally recognized for his musicianship (trumpet/EVI), composing, arranging, producing and bandleading skills. As an esteemed educator and Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami, Daversa associates with and has access to some of the best musicians in the world, hereby assembling a truly top echelon lineup of Latin Jazz band members.
The pandemic, as the title indicates, brought about time of reflection for Daversa, as he speaks to on the third track, as he turned his attention to family and the interconnectedness of close ones. The latter had him reaching out to these Miami-based musicians – pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, winner of two Grammys and two Latin Grammys, drummer Dafnis Prieto who is a MacArthur Fellow and Grammy winner, Sammy Figueroa who is generally regard as on the world’s top percussionists and versatile bassist Carlos De Rosa, who has played with a span of artists from Ravi Coltrane to the New York City Ballet. These are not only Miami-based players, they are internationally known stars.
The album comprises 17 tracks in the bolero style, a concept developed out of a conversation with Rubalcaba, who has been strongly associated with the moderate to slow tempo style marked by a rhythmic figure under a beautiful, oft romantic melody. They talked about how this kind of music was played by families at home, becoming a strengthening bond. Not only does the album have a spoken word section for Daversa but it has one for each, amplifying the personal nature of the project.
Three of the tunes contain melodies written by Daversa’s father or grandfather. The ones with numbers, “#9,” “#22,” and “#45” are from his trumpet playing father who hardly wrote titles for his songs. Daversa’s daughter asked him to write the more playful up-tempo song for the family’s two dogs – “Puppitas (para Lea y Mara).” He also penned a lullaby for his daughter, Hara – “Cancion de Cuna para Hara.” Sammy Figuero’s dad, Charlie was a noted bolero singer who passed at the age of 27, leaving behind a short but solid body of work. “El Ultimo Suspiro” is for him.
There are more familial strains including “Fabrica de Conservas de San Francisco (la Historia de Molly y Johnny), a piano and trumpet duet for paternal grandparents and his wife, the former professional dancer and ice skater, in “La Balarina (para Tatiana).” An amazing lifeblood of talent runs through his family as his maternal grandfather, Austin, was a professional clarinetist, saxophonist, and educator in Oklahoma. “Opus 1 (escrita por El Abuelo Austin).” And his maternal grandmother is a relative of Sgt. Alvin York, one of the most decorated U.S. soldiers of WW1. So, “Soldado Distinguido (para Sgt. Alvin York)” was written in his honor. There are only a few non-family related tracks and even those bear some emotional connection.
Quite obviously this music is warm, elegant, and requisitely restrained in keeping with the theme. It’s the perfect soundtrack for these stay-at-home times. Listen closely and you’ll find a meditative kind of spirituality and highly communicative, though subtle communication between these fine players. Its quiet, calming effect may not garner the wide acclaim Daversa’s received from his most recent endeavors, but it is equally worthy in its understated way.
- Jim Hynes