I was only too happy to accept an invitation from Frank DiFelice, director of the Brantford Downtown Jazz Concert Series, to hear Toronto jazz vocalist Barbra Lica in the Sanderson Centre’s main lobby.

Unfortunately, due to a previous commitment, I was only able to catch the second half of her February 8 show but what I was amazed by what I saw and heard.

Lica delivered sparkling arrangements of tunes by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others.

She also has written a number of original songs, some of which she performed during the evening. One was the slow romantic ballad, Five o’clock Lullaby, which revealed how talented she is at bending the straight notes coming into a warm vibrato at the end of her phrases. We also heard excellent creative guitar work from Tom Fleming on this one.

Lica’s love of singing was conveyed to the audience by the joy that always seemed to be present in her facial expressions as she performed. Her intonation and dynamic voice control on all of the pieces were phenomenal. Between each tune, she explained why she liked a certain composer or what situation prompted her to write a certain song. such as Coffee Shop or Fishies.

The rest of her backup jazz ensemble consisted of pianist Joel Bisentin, bassist Marc Rogers and, on drums, Will Fisher. These four high-calibre musicians have only worked as a unit backing Lica since May but their tight cohesive sound and excellent individual solo work were exemplary.

Fisher and Bisentin studied at Humber College, Fleming and Lica at the University of Toronto and Rogers attended the University Of Texas.

An up tempo swinging Cole Porter piece, So In Love, featured everyone doing some solo work, especially Fisher doing some great drumstick work on the rim. On the Ellington tune Just Settin’ and a Rockin’, Lica tells about waiting for her man who doesn’t get home on time. On one fast tune, Bisentin rose to the occasion on the keys as his fingers danced up and down the keyboard with superb jazz runs punctuated with block chords. Rogers did some fancy walking bass runs on the high strings on this one. Love In The Old Fashioned Way was an up tempo piece which again featured Bisentin with some excellent cascading piano passages with Rogers employing some excellent slap bass technique at various moments. Fishes, another medium tempo original happy tune about finding a date on the Internet, had a kind of funky rock beat to it.

To slightly alter the scene and the sound the four instrumentalists collected around Lica who stayed at the mic. This time, Bisentin had strapped on an accordion and Fisher brought out his snare drum. With a Latin rhumba style the group performed Why Don’t You Pretend, with Fisher executing some clever brush work on the snare. The second piece, La Vie En Rose, I felt was the best version of this song I’d ever heard. Lica’s interpretation was flawless, and had the added extra of the accordion sounding like a concertina. It made me feel as if I was in Paris — France, that is!

After completing the evening with the classic Cole Porter song, It’s Just One Of Those Things, and receiving a loud standing ovation, Lica sang as an encore one of her favourites, Irving Berlin’s Careful, It’s My Heart.

During an interview after the show, Lica told me about her busy touring schedule and participation last September at the International Jazz Festival in Tokyo.

She said that she is working on her fourth album. Her debut album, That’s What I Do, was released in 2012 with a live to air concert broadcast on Jazz FM 91.1. In November 2013, she was first runner-up in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz voice competition in New Jersey. Her second full-length album, Kissing You, was officially released in January 2015. She has been rated as one Canada’s top female jazz artists.

The downtown jazz series continues April 18 with Luis Mario Ochoa Quintet and on June 6 with Charles Di Raimondo. General admission tickets cost $30. For tickets, visit the Sanderson Centre box office at 88 Dalhousie St. or call 1-800-265-0710 or 519-758-8090 or online at the Sanderson Centre website.

This article originally appeared in the Brantford Expositor on February 24, 2016