By Jim Macnie | Published December 2020
When trouble strikes and it’s time to hunker down, surrounding yourself with loved ones is a good way to stay strong. Relationships nurtured by home and hearth often provide solace, and, in John Daversa’s case, inspiration.
The Grammy-winning trumpeter conceived this program of genteel boleros with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose mastery of the style becomes obvious with each note his instrument delivers. A slow-tempo song form that began as Spanish ballroom music and thrives here as an exercise in poise, boleros are both quaint and profound. Leading a group that includes drummer Dafnis Prieto, bassist Carlo De Rosa and percussionist Sammy Figueroa, Daversa stresses the form’s elegance, casting it as a parlor music of Latin households, part of the glue that has helped bond kin through decades. Melodies written by his father and grandfather, dedications to his grandmother’s remarkable lineage, valentines to his wife and kids and even a nod to family pets create a sentimental glow of unity that radiates optimism during our stressful pandemic epoch.
Cuarentena also offers a new perspective on Daversa’s interests. Most listeners likely know him through the flamboyance of his large ensembles and feisty funk-bop work, which has both pros and cons. But the intimacy of this new record is an enticing counterpoint to the occasionally florid pieces that the Frost School of Music prof has previously brought to the table. (Though props to anyone who rebuffs Trump’s hateful ideas around DACA with a frenzied, rap-driven big-band spin of Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song.”)
The quintet’s approach to these jewels stands at a nexus of shared pleasures and heartfelt cohesion. From the lyricism of the leader’s muted horn on “La Bailarina (Para Tatiana)” to the rhythm section’s agility on “Puppitas (Para Lea Y Maya)” (a nod to Daversa’s cocker spaniels with extra oomph provided by Lea’s metronomic panting), to the buoyant thrust that marks “#19,” their temperament is the product of co-
ordination and ease. And chops, too. “Oma (A La Madre Divina)” mixes the trumpet’s earthy textures with the pianist’s playful comping. Rubalcaba’s erudition becomes more obvious with each year, and on Cuarentena his provocative lines keep the music percolating.
Underscoring the record’s concept are spoken statements by each of the musicians, discussing the pandemic’s impact and the need to cherish loved ones, protect parents, seize opportunities and be thankful for the gifts they’ve been given. It’s a wise move, further personalizing a program that’s obviously dear to its creators, and illustrating in words what the hush of “Canción De Cuna Para Hara” and rumination of “El Último Suspiro” are trying to convey instrumentally. Noble intentions ultimately suggesting that we’re all connected, whether or not we share bloodlines.
Cuarentena: With Family At Home: #45; #22; John Daversa: Growing Up In A Musical Family; La Bailarina (Para Tatiana); Oma (A La Madre Divina); Sammy Figueroa Plays For Charlie Figueroa; El Último Suspiro; Soldado Distinquido (Para Sgt. Alvin York); Puppitas (Para Lea Y Maya); Fábrica De Conservas De San Francisco (La Historia De Molly Y Johnny); Gonzalo Rubalcaba: El Estilo De Vida Que Llevamos Es Muy Rápido; #19; Dafnis Prieto: Haciendo La Misma Cosa Que Siempre He Hecho; Un Bolero Para Lola; Carlo DeRosa: Can’t Visit Family; Opus 1 (Escrita Por El Abuelo Austin); Canción De Cuna Para Hara. (68:32)
Personnel: John Daversa, trumpet, flugelhorn; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion.