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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Tuesday, 17 November 2015 00:13

isq - 16th November, Hideaway, London

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isq (Irene Serra Quartet) and the Emily Francis Trio make their debuts at the EFG London Jazz Festival. 

Another night, another gig at the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. This time we ventured south of the river to Streatham's Hideaway to to watch -isq, the Irene Serra Quartet, who were being supported by rising star, pianist Emily Francis and her trio.

Emily Francis was joined on stage by bass player Trevor Boxall, who played electric bass, and drummer Liam Waugh. They opened with Winnebago, from their debut CD, The Absent (2015), with Emily starting on piano. The tune was far longer than on record, and she delivered an impressive solo. The subtlety of her playing was lost somewhat on the title track, submerged my the drums, which sounded a little too loud. Hops N Scotch was far better, with Emily switching to Fender Rhodes. The rhythm section showed they were tight, and got into a good groove. She threw in a neat cover of James Bay's Hold Back The River, returning to piano, and taking the tune in a quite different direction to the original. Stefano Tsourelis, who plays on one track on the album, joined as a guest for final two tunes of the set. Trunk, which was influenced by the sound of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, was particularly impressive. I thought the guitar added another dimension to the band's sound, and Tsourelis delivered some tasty solos. Emily Francis is undoubtedly a name to watch, and one you'll be seeing again in Kind Of Jazz.

Irene Serra, the singer of -isq, took to the stage in an outfit she described as part Hackney gangster gal, part Dynasty, which is a bold move in Streatham! The set cherry-picked from the band's first two albums, and it was encouraging to see their conviction in their own compositions, rather than trying to pad the set with cover versions. They opened with the first two tracks from Too, their second album, and one of our picks of the year. Reflections opened with John Crawford's delicate piano, but as the music built, the vocal sounded a little too low in the mix. This was seemingly resolved by the time the band started Falling Stars, one of the album's many highlights. Irene's vocal was soulful and heartfelt, and bass player Richard Sadler played a fine solo. This Bird Has Flown, a single from the band's first album, was superb, featuring a great bass line, and some wonderfully quirky muted piano from Crawford. TV Face, written in response to our obsession with all things digital, came next, and featured an inventive solo by drummer Chis Nickolls, whose distinctive playing helps to underpin the band's sound.

Walking Wounded was introduced as a somewhat depressing metaphor for modern life, but Irene's aching vocal was a delight, and produced a strong response from the audience. Pictures On My Mind, again from the first album, is built on a rather lovely piano line by Crawford, and it's good to see how the song has evolved over the last couple of years. As promised in the band's recent interview with Kind Of Jazz, they threw in one new song. Paper Doll was again influenced by social media, but boasted a powerful and impressive chorus, demonstrating the band's desire to write memorable tunes. The new song may be included on the band's third album, but the reaction of the crowd suggested it might also make a good stand-alone single. Light And Shade brought the set to a close, and as promised, featured the backing vocals of Richard Sadler. They returned for an encore of Zion, the first single from Too, which brought the show to a rousing end.

This was -isq's first appearance at the EFG London Jazz Festival, and judging by the packed audience on a wet and windy Monday evening - hardly prime time - it won't be their last. The band are eager to do more gigs in 2016, and given the strength of the band's compositions and fine performance here, it's an opportunity they surely deserve.

Photo: Jordan Ruddick

Clothes: Julia Roberts and Krystle Carrington

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