-isq: -isq (2013)
Serra and the instrumentalistsRichard Sadler, formerly bassist with the Neil Cowley, John Crawford on piano and Chris Nickolls on drumsare exemplary. Nickolls, whose credits include work with saxophonists Tommaso Starace and Andy Sheppard, is a vibrant player who can readily shift from simple, light-touch patterns to heavier, rock-influenced beats. Crawford has worked with percussionist Airto Moreira and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, and his reputation is growing within Latin and jazz music: he and Sadler move between frontline and rhythm section roles with impunity. Crawford's command of dynamics is impressive; his delicate playing on "Unforgettable You" sets the perfect mood for Serra's regret-filled vocal, while his more percussive approach joins Nickolls' powerhouse drums in driving songs like "Simple Things" or "Etude: A Study In You And Me" forward.
Two aspects of -isq give the band a special edge: Serra's world-weary but captivating vocals; and the interplay between singer and bassist. Serra's voice is graceful and sensual, an occasional added vibrato giving it a hint of the chanteuse. The sound is beautiful but melancholy, a match for her lyrics. The message from many of these songs seems to be that disappointment is the ultimate end to every romance, so it's best to prepare for it from the first kiss. Thankfully, it's not all so downbeat. "Night creeps in. Dirty dirty thoughts of him" she sings on the slinky "This Bird Has Flown," but even here the title reveals a far from happy tale.
Sadler's playing is tight, powerful and positiveand a perfect complement for Serra's vocals. Even when Sadler plays slowly and sparingly, as he does on "Walking Wounded" and "This Bird Has Flown," he's an emphatic presence, heightening Serra's emotional impact. His solo on "TV Face" is a master class in combining strength, groove and melody.
-isq's emphasis on the less joyous elements of love and romance doesn't lead to the world's cheeriest collection of songs, but it does result in some very beautiful and emotionally engaging ones. -isq is a strikingly mature debut; disappointment never felt so good.
Track Listing: Ill Wind; Pictures On My Mind; This Bird has Flown; TV Face; Walking Wounded; Johnny's Fallen; Unforgettable You; Simple Things; Etude: A Study In You And Me; The Loneliest Of Dreams.
Personnel: Irene Serra: vocals; John Crawford: piano; Richard Sadler: double bass; Chris Nickolls: drums.
Record Label: Cheesepeas Records