When interpreting the Beatles, some jazz artists go minimalist, as if shielding themselves from the music’s sheer cultural weight. Not John Daversa. On Kaleidoscope Eyes, the trumpeter-arranger swings for the fences, his mammoth “Progressive Big Band”-60 musicians, including strings, a choir and guests-giving grand voice to eight sprawling, ambitious renderings of Fab Four classics. Daversa takes as many chances with these tunes as the Beatles did with pop music.
Recorded live at Alva’s Showroom in San Pedro, Calif., Kaleidoscope Eyes bursts out of the gate with a brassy R&B take on “Good Day Sunshine,” where Tom Peterson’s blaring tenor saxophone is matched by growling guest vocals from Renee Olstead. “I Saw Her Standing There” gets a similarly gutsy treatment, with near-frantic horns punctuated by Daversa’s bullet-train trumpet and a hip-hop vocal break from saxophonist Katisse Buckingham. Tommy King’s sensitive piano leads into a carnivalesque “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” accented with screaming guitar freak-outs and the on-point drumming of Gene Coye. “Michelle” is Daversa’s most abstract arrangement, fragments of melody slithering through a swirl of billowing horns, burbling bass from Jerry Watts Jr. and King’s cavernous keyboards.
Beatle ballads receive equally engaging treatment. Daversa leads a potently melancholy, strings-drenched “And I Love Her,” and Christine Guter’s coy vocal pas de deux with clarinets and Joe Martone’s percussion on “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” the album’s sole non-Lennon/McCartney track, is the high point. Daversa, on trumpet, elegantly renders Harrison’s line, then he heads for the stratosphere on his EVI (electronic valve instrument), soaring and diving over twittering flutes, Coye’s splashy cymbals and anthemic brass. It’s bright with all the joy and possibility of the Beatles’ best music, and exemplifies the expansive, utterly successful reach of Daversa’s undertaking.