It’s been over four years since the launch of Too, which one of our albums of the year in 2015. Over the intervening period, plenty has changed in the life of Irene Serra, the singer that gives the band its name (isq stands for Irene Serra Quartet), and in the world of jazz, which seems to be undergoing something of a creative burst, as it spills over into electronica, dance, nu-soul, and plenty more besides.
The band felt the need to change with the times. Irene Serra’s solo work, under the moniker Wolf & I, flirted with electronic pop, whilst Irene herself has been highlighting some of her favourite new jazz and soul singers. So it’s probably no surprise to learn that the new album embraces a number of those elements, and has a somewhat different flavour to its predecessor.
The most obvious change is the arrival of new keyboard player Naadia Sheriff, who replaces the excellent John Crawford. Big shoes to fill, but Naadia – last heard by KoJ with Yazz Ahmed’s stunning Hafla Band – is up to the task. She brings a more electronic feel to the band’s sound, playing not just piano but also Roland synthesizer. She also added electronic effects to many of the new tunes, with bass player Richard Sadler added additional effects during the production stage.
The other main change to the band’s sound comes with experimentation with song form, with each full track interspersed with short, one minute songs and themes. This idea has been used by RnB and rap artists for many years, of course; when the songs are mere ‘skits’ and musical jokes, it can quickly become tiresome, but when the band breaks things up with interesting new musical ideas, as happens here, it can work well.
The opening track, We All Bleed, lasts just over one minutes, but has all the isq hallmarks – Irene’s soulful voice, Richard Sadler’s clear, elegant basslines, Chris Nickoll’s crisp drumming – and the addition of Naadia Sheriff’s keyboard, and some subtle electronic effects. An amuse bouche of a tune, if you like, leading into the more jazz-oriented single, Ode To Myself, which was launched as a single a few months back. The song opens with a brief improvised passage, before a neat Sadler bassline gives way to the verse, which features a trademark heartfelt lyric by Irene Serra, and a delightful chorus. There’s also a lovely solo by Richard Sadler, who impresses, as always.
Listen to the radio edit of Ode To Myself here.
In My Bed sounds more RnB than jazz, with its sparse percussion, before giving way to a killer chorus, which fades into electronic effect. Over too soon. But giving way to the new single, Stone, which has something of a nu-soul feel. It’s classic isq, but with a subtle twist; just before two minutes, Irene clicks her fingers, and the pace picks up, to great effect. One of the highlights for me, and featuring a fine piano solo by newcomer, Naadia Sheriff.
At The Seams could have been a Wolf & I tune, with more of a pop feel, and features a great bassline by Richard Sadler, and a lovely soulful vocal. Panic Room is next - a slow ballad, with the rhythm section leaving plenty of space for Irene’s singing. I wasn’t wholly convinced by the chorus, but there’s a funky breakdown which I loved, with some cool drumming by Chris Nickoll and a great piano solo by Naadia Sheriff.
Orbit is a strong tune, driven by Chris Nickoll’s propulsive drumming. There’s a lovely breakdown at the hallway point, which crosses over into pure pop territory, and works well. That pop feel is carried into Little Girl, before Paper Doll, the album’s first single – which has been in the band’s repertoire for some time now. It’s a new mix of the song, and features a powerful vocal by Irene Serra, who really let’s rip in a powerful chorus.
Watch the video to Paper Doll here.
Run To You is not a Bryan Adams, sad to say – but a brief snippet of pop, before we go into Loving A Stranger, a fine new ballad, with gorgeous lyrics, courtesy of Irene Serra, and another great solo by bass player Richard Sadler.
The album closes with Lost Where We Belong, a subtle ballad, which gives way to a funky, improvised breakdown – the whole band pulling together as one.
Why Requiem For The Faithful? In part a feeling that the world needs more than thoughts and prayers to heal right now, explains Irene, but also a reaction to the loss of her mother, and the faith she held dear. There’s plenty here for the band’s faithful fans to enjoy, too. Some great new tunes, with Ode To Myself, Stone, Orbit and Loving A Stranger set to join Paper Doll as classics in the band’s repertoire. I’d like hear a couple of the shorter tunes be expanded to full songs in their own right; In My Bed and At The Seams were both fabulous, but also left me wanting more, and the electronic shadings on the album worked really well, updating the classic isq sound – and potentially broadening the band’s crossover appeal. And with a nationwide tour coming up, there’s every chance that will happen.