Since it often seems that musicians by the boatload are busily covering the Beatles Songbook—just Google jazz covers of the Beatles—it might also seem that another album filled with the songs from the Fab Four archive is in danger of sinking the boat. Not necessarily. Indeed, not likely, if that album is trumpeter/composer John Daversa’s May release, Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles, recorded live at Alva’s Showroom in San Pedro, California.
Kaleidoscope Eyes is more than an attempt to take a tune and change a tempo or a harmony here and there; rather, it is an attempt to reimagine the music – reimagine it in the context of a truly progressive big band. In his rather short liner notes for the CD, trumpet virtuoso Terence Blanchard says the album is “the definition of artistry and creativity.” This is the Beatles’ music like you haven’t ever heard it—at least on some of the nine tracks. “There are different colors and swirls,” Blanchard goes on, “where reality doesn’t seem real anymore … an alternate universe where everything is different.”
Perhaps one good example is the band’s nine-and-a-half-minute exploration of “Here Comes the Sun.” Featuring Daversa himself on trumpet, Jeff Driskill on soprano sax, and Bob Carr on bass clarinet, the arrangement begins and ends with a simple statement of theme, but in between it builds an innovative sonic bridge with otherworldly solo work to connect them. This is not to say that “Here Comes the Sun” is an outlier. The album is filled with interesting and inventive interpretations.
The extra large band, supplemented by strings and vocalists, begins with a dynamic version of “Good Day Sunshine.” It starts with a powerhouse tenor sax opening from Tom Peterson that leads to a swinging vocal from Renee Olstead. Olstead returns with some equally impressive vocal work on a beautiful, laid-back arrangement of “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” “I Saw Her Standing There” has some interplay between vocal lines from Daversa set into a rap tattoo from tenor sax man Katisse Buckingham. At just over 10 minutes, it is the longest piece on the release.
There are lovely, soft arrangements of “And I Love Her” and “Michelle,” complete with some of those swirls that Blanchard talks about. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” begins with a quiet thematic statement on the piano from Tommy King, but is transformed quickly into a multi-instrumental blend, including a cello, a piccolo trumpet, an oboe, a bassoon, a couple of guitars, and a trombone.
The set’s penultimate tune is the “Kaleidoscope Eyes Medley”: “With a Little Help from My Friends,” with Daversa on trumpet, leads into a drum-focused “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” featuring Gene Cove, and then into a sprightly vocal chorale singing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” before ending with a chaotic, blasting “I Am the Walrus.” A reprise of “Good Day Sunshine” ends this very fine album.