Is jazz a genre to be enjoyed only in the wee hours of the night or can it be a midday pastime? It’s an absolute yes to the latter. Singer-songwriter Micah Barnes and his trio entertained an enthusiastic crowd at the Jazz Bistro‘s Month of Sundays brunch series on June 9, 2013. Barnes, formerly of The Nylons, weaved stories of meeting one’s potential lover to hooking up and the subsequent humdrum throughout his two-set performance, skilfully engaging the audience with his anecdotal whisperings. With Russ Boswell on bass and his brother Daniel Barnes on drums, the singer performed tunes from his most recent and soon-to-be-released CDs.
Barnes’s voice ranges from soulful and seductive to mellow and sensitive. Delighting the crowd with his cover of the late Etta James’s “A Sunday Kind of Love,” Barnes displayed powerful chops and an inherent understanding of the blues. Later, he brought the mood down several notches with the sentimental 30s ballad, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” “Domesticated” saluted the joys of coupledom.
Formerly the Savoy Bistro and prior to that the Senator, the Jazz Bistro opened in April 2013 reviving another welcome jazz venue to Toronto. With an interior decorated in torchy red and black, the otherwise nocturnal ambiance is deceived by glorious open windows allowing daylight in and the music to waft onto Victoria Street.
You’ll find typical brunch menu items with a twist such as Poached Eggs with arugula and smoked ham hock ($14) and French toast bread pudding with cherry compote ($12), as well as innovative lunch fare such as Butternut Squash and kale strata ($12), tourtiere ($15) and Black Forest Ham and Gouda tartine with apple butter ($15). My dining partner and I both opted for the Roasted Chicken Club with double smoked bacon, tomato, roasted garlic aioli on a toasted focaccia ($15). The sandwich is served with either fries or a side salad. My club sandwich was delicious; however, it insisted on falling apart so I gave up and ate it with a fork and knife. No worries, it was a wonderful blend of flavours and the focaccia was so fresh and beautifully absorbed the aioli.
But back to the music. Barnes has an extremely versatile voice able to growl and groove when necessary and at other times softly delivering sentiments from the heart. And he’s also quite the showman, getting up from the piano frequently to deliver a one-on-one with the audience. One of Barnes’s most outstanding crowd pleasers was the no nonsense and in charge blues rock number, “Baby Don’t You Lie To Me” from his upcoming CD. Barnes also struck gold with the confident “Starting Tomorrow, I’m Going To Be Your Man.” Musically,this trio is flawless: Barnes is a superb pianist while Boswell and Daniel Barnes provided understated accompaniment and solid background vocals to the singer.
Barnes showcased two up-and-coming singers who sang backup for his last selection, Smokey Robinson’s “Shop Around.” When it was her turn to sing the second verse, Ashley Bea blew the roof off with her powerful vocals and resonating high notes. It was a smart and generous move on Barnes’s part to end with such a well-known song accompanied by some wonderfully talented singers.
Word has it that a very special Canadian blues legend may be appearing at Barnes’s June 18th show at the Jazz Bistro.
A Month of Sundays with the Micah Barnes Trio takes place at the Jazz Bistro on June 1, 9, 16, 23 and 30, 2013. Cost is $15 per person for the show only; brunch costs are extra. Performance begins at 12:30 p.m. Phone for reservations.
Jazz Bistro, 251 Victoria Street (south of Dundas Street East), 416-363-5299