We saw the Emily Francis Trio open for –isq at the EFG London Jazz Festival last year, and suggested they would be a name you would see again in Kind Of Jazz. Three months later, the band held their official launch party for their debut album, The Absent, at Jazz Café Posk in Hammersmith, before embarking on their debut UK tour.
On their website, the band claim to be influenced by jazz-rock, 1970s jazz-funk and soul, and even progressive rock. Whilst one can undoubtedly hear these influences, they manage to avoid the pitfalls often associated with fusion and prog rock by writing well-crafted, memorable tunes.
The album opens with Hops n Scotch, a title that references the alcohol preferences of bass player Trevor Boxall. He opens with a deliciously funky bass line, before Emily Francis comes in with a cool riff on the Fender Rhodes. There’s even room for a touch of synth, but it never feels intrusive. The song is underpinned by some tight drumming, courtesy of Liam Waugh. The rhythm section is a big fan of Steely Dan, and this is clearly reflected in some of the crisp lines and sharp changes.
Winnebago sees Francis switch to piano. The title suggests touring the open expanses of North America, and there is something more cinematic and widescreen about this composition. She claims that Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider, recorded with multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, was a big influence on her playing, and that comes across clearly here.
Redshift sees the band slow the tempo. It’s a lovely ballad, seemingly built around a simple bass line. For the most part, Francis sticks to piano here, although there is a touch of Rhodes, before Boxall takes a solo of his own.
Sabo is named after Francis’s old piano teacher, who sadly passed away before the tune was completed. The tune has a Latin-vibe, with Kenny Garrett also an influence on the band’s sound here. Emily Francis produces a fine solo, with Liam Waugh also taking the opportunity to deliver some intricate playing.
As we suggested in our live review, Headhunters-era Hancock can be heard clearly on Trunk, which derives its name from Trevor and Funk. The trio is joined by guitarist Stefanos Tsourelis on this tune, which gives the band a fuller, more muscular sound. Drummer Liam Waugh responds accordingly, with some ferocious playing, whilst Boxall uses his pedals to produce a funky bass solo.
The title track brings the album to a brooding close. Mehldau is again the most obvious touch point here, but this is a fine composition in its own right, with some lovely interplay between the three musicians.
The Absent is a relatively brief album by today’s standards, clocking in at just forty minutes, but is all the better for that – six great tunes, all band compositions, and no filler, thus ensuring it never outstays its welcome. The quality of the recording is also good; it was mixed on to tape, giving the sound a warmth that can be lacking on some modern recordings. The band will be touring the UK over the next six weeks – catch them if you can.