Richard Underhill Free Spirit

Underhill is likely to remain best known as the leader of beloved beatnik jazz combo Shuffle Demons, but he's been forging an impressive solo career. His three earlier discs all scored Juno nominations (the first, Tales from the Blue Lounge, won), and this fine effort will likely keep the streak intact. As the title hints, there's a vibrant vibe to this record, one solely featuring tunes composed and arranged by Underhill. He gives his colleagues room to shine, a smart decision with cats this talented. Trombonist Ron Westray is a Wynton Marsalis alumnus who catches the ear, teaming with Underhill's spirited sax work. Pianist Dave Restivo stands out on "Hustle Up," an infectiously upbeat tune, while the strong rhythm section of Artie Roth and Larnell Lewis round out the core combo. Underhill mixes hard bop and contemporary flavours, and a tune like the suitably tender "When You Fall in Love" shows he has a nice touch with ballads. A bonus is the live DVD, featuring extended workouts on songs from Free Spirit, alongside some earlier favourites. (Stubby)