Harkening back to the classic West Coast jazz style of the 1950s and 60s, the music on Classic Beauties, led by Toronto drummer/composer Daniel Barnes, is reminiscent of legendary artists such as Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Shelley Mann. Barnes has assembled a first-rate quintet of adventurous and swinging Canadian musicians: alto saxophonist Richard Underhill, trumpeter William Sperandei, pianist Robi Botos and bassist Kieran Overs.
Barnes, an award-winning drummer in Canada, maintains an unrelenting, swinging drive throughout the session. His musical emphasis, however, is on the ensemble, with individual displays of virtuosity serving the needs of each piece. As a composer, Barnes seems to find his voice when he departs from the confines of past traditions. While the nostalgia of "Short Bop and "Mademoiselle Fuller are lively and endearing, it's the more contemporary-laced tracks like "FJD, "Ogopogo and "Don't Push My Love Aside that bring out Barnes' personalized approach.
Led by the dynamic front line of Underhill and Sperandei, the disc is full of memorable solos. Sperandei maneuvers his trumpet through a highly diverse journey of haunting lyricism ("Don't Push My Love Aside ) and tightly-woven bop runs ("Short Bop and "Another Short Bop ). Underhill's approach on the alto saxophone is also varying and stylistically diverse. He seems equally comfortable exploring edgy bursts of energy ("Ogopogo ) and laid-back finesse ("Gently Through the Night ).
Botos and Overs, along with Barnes, comprise a slick, versatile rhythm section. Botos displays mastery of the hard-bop style in his comping and soloing. His sweltering eighth note runs on "You and the Night Music and "Ogopogo are wonderfully executed. Overs is a veteran Canadian bassist, and band leader in his own right, who has a meaty sound entrenched in the hard-swinging tradition of fellow Toronto bass legends Dave Young and Neil Swainson. His rough-and-tumble workout on "FJD adds a spicy kick to the Cajun-flavored romp.
Toronto has always been a fertile breeding ground for world class jazz talent. The musicians on Classic Beauties are no exception. Barnes is a leader who has the potential to attract a large audience while staying true to his artistic vision. Hopefully, this engaging disc will find its way south of the Canadian border and beyond.
Short Bop; You and the Night Music; Mademoiselle Fuller; FJD; Ogopogo; Don
Daniel Barnes: drums; Richard Underhill: alto saxophone; William Sperandei: trumpet; Robi Botos: piano; Kieran Overs: bass.