John Daversa and friends flex chops at SMC

What is music? Is it simply an order of sounds, culminating in rhythm, melody and harmony? What about the spontaneous act of improvisation, that act of fleeting magic that once captured, can never be fully imitated? Is music a collection of genres, forms, and artistic tastes? Perhaps these answers would suffice a dictionary’s definition; for some people though, music is connected more to passion, devotion, and childlike wonder than to linear and vertical expressions of harmony.

That passion for raw expression was on full display Friday night on the Edye Second Space at Santa Monica College’s Performing Arts Center. The John Daversa Small Band, a small sextet combo led by John Daversa, played two inspiring sets of contemporary jazz.

Daversa, an accomplished trumpeter from Los Angeles who is a major force within the city’s insular jazz community, is a little hard to peg. While it is understandable within the context of conventional jazz song forms, it is at times wholly original.

“John’s music is a mix of jazz, blues, pop, New Orleans music, funk, and odd-time signatures,” said Katisse Buckingham, an alto saxophonist and vocalist in Daversa’s Small Band.

Indeed, it seems at times that these six men are recreating an idiom rich with new textures. Daversa, who has some serious chops on the trumpet and flugelhorn, was not shy to show off his EVI, or electronic valve instrument. The EVI is something like a lovechild between a trumpet and a vocoder—a synthesized wind controller.

Think of Eddie Harris’ electronic saxophone—but with a seemingly limitless octave range, and a badass attitude.

“It’s definitely forward thinking,” said Tommy King, the combo’s pianist.

During each set, Daversa showcased original songs from his repertoire and recently released album “Artful Joy.” Highlights of the evening included “Shelley’s Guitar,” and “The Bridge.”

While Daversa’s talents are undeniable, the showstoppers of the evening were drummer Gene Coye and saxophonists Buckingham on alto and Robby Marshall on tenor.

Buckingham and Marshall were in top form. Marshall, who credits Lester Young, Stanley Turrentine and Joshua Redman as influences, commanded the evening with his tenor. His soft, bluesy tone contrasted wonderfully with Buckingham’s bright, hard-bopping alto solos. These cats played with some seriously bad attitude, and the net result was inspiring.

Coye’s beats, accompanied by bassist Jerry Watts, made for a formidable rhythm section. His solos, which were absolutely furious, were as much about the blistering tempos as they were about the pin-drop silence between the rapid-fire bursts of percussion.

In short, Daversa’s music accomplishes what some of the best jazz, and best music, seeks to do: To express life in all of its rich complexity. The musicians played with a joy and technical skill that was self-evident.

Robert Bowman, a student of Daversa’s at Cal State Northridge (Daversa is a full time jazz faculty member there) who attended the show, described Daversa’s source of inspiration after the second set.

“He’s truly passionate about making music. It’s all about love and joy for what he does,” Bowman said.

“It always goes back to love,” said a wide eyed, smiling Daversa after the show. “It’s that feeling of looking at my daughters face, or feeling out-of-body.

“I don’t know where it all starts, but I know it’s where I want to end,” he said.

To see John Daversa’s Small Band play live, check them out at SevenGrand bar in Downtown Los Angeles every second Monday of the month. For more information, go to