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Emily Francis Trio

Emily Francis Trio, Symphony Hall Café Bar, Birmingham, 12/02/2016.

Photography: Photograph sourced from the Birmingham Town Hall / Symphony Hall website [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

February 15, 2016


A highly successful gig for the Emily Francis Trio who gave an assured performance that made a big impression on the Birmingham public.

Emily Francis Trio, Symphony Hall Café Bar, Birmingham, 12/02/2015.

This early evening performance was held in the foyer of Symphony Hall and was one of the popular “Free Gigs” events organised by the Birmingham based Jazzlines organisation. As it was a ‘freebie’ for all I don’t intend to go into my usual depth of detail but nevertheless this was an enjoyable performance by pianist and composer Emily Francis and her colleagues that deserves a level of acknowledgement, appreciation and documentation.

Francis is a young pianist, keyboard player and composer based in London. She graduated from London College of Music in 2011 where she studied with Eddie Harvey and the late Pete Saberton. In the summer of 2015 she self released her début album “The Absent”, a highly promising recording that is reviewed comprehensively elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Francis describes her trio’s music as combining “a strong melodic groove based approach with a traditional improvised sensibility” and points to the influence of progressive rock, jazz rock, 70’s jazz funk and soul. Collectively the trio cite Herbie Hancock, Jason Rebello, Kenny Garrett, Steely Dan and Brad Mehldau as specific influences, a fairly eclectic and highly admirable mix.

The trio have performed as part of the Ealing, Cheltenham and London jazz festivals and are currently on a nationwide tour in support of their début recording. The Birmingham show teamed Francis with album personnel Trevor Boxall on electric bass and WorldService Project drummer Liam Waugh behind the traps.

The trio’s first set featured them playing material sourced exclusively from the album while the second saw them débuting a clutch of new tunes as well as performing a couple of covers sourced from the jazz and pop worlds.
Francis plays both acoustic and electric pianos plus synthesiser and the trio’s music that dips into the fusion bag whilst simultaneously embracing acoustic jazz virtues. It all made for an admirably varied programme that proved to be both entertaining and enjoyable.

The first set saw Francis deploying electric piano and synthesiser on fusionesque opener “Hops ‘N’ Scotch” before switching to grand piano for “Winnebago”, the album’s stand out track. With its loping 12/8 groove and flowing acoustic piano melodies the piece is reminiscent of E.S.T. at their best – perhaps it’s not such a surprise that Francis sometimes shortens the name of her group to EFT. The title suggests the influence of Pat Metheny too.

Acoustic piano also featured on both “Red Shift” and “Sabo”, the latter Francis’ dedication to her one time mentor the late Pete Saberton, a musician and educator seemingly universally revered by the British jazz community.

“Sabo” also featured an element of funk courtesy of Boxall’s supple electric bass grooves. An accomplished soloist as well as a reliable timekeeper Boxall also impressed on the Headhunters inspired “Trunk”, the title an amalgam of the words “Trev” and “funk”. With Francis again cranking up her Nord keyboard and accompanying synth and with Waugh contributing strongly at the kit you can probably guess what this sounded like. The recorded version features an impressive guest appearance from guitarist Stefanos Tsourelis but the tune still sounded good in a trio context.

Album title track “The Absent” brought all of Francis’ influences together with the composer deploying both acoustic and electric keyboards and performing effectively on both on an ambitious piece of writing that is another of the recording’s highlights.

The first half was well received by an attentive, appreciative and pleasingly sizeable audience. Attendances at these events are always good and with Francis selling copies of the album for a bargain £7 business was brisk during the interval and again after the show.

When writing about “The Absent” I mentioned the trio’s enormous potential and the three new compositions that graced the second set suggested that they should be able to build on this and continue to develop as a band.
The highly rhythmic “What’s Happening Now” represented a spirited set opener and revisited the group’s funk and fusion leanings with Francis again performing on both acoustic and electric keyboards.

Boxall’s “Shakey Jake”, written for his young nephew, reached even further into fusion territory with its funky bass lines and wailing keyboards and synth.

However Francis’ as yet unnamed ballad, an “old school tune” tentatively titled “Moody” exhibited a greater emotional depth and an admirable lyricism with Francis playing delicate acoustic piano sensitively supported by Boxall’s languid bass grooves and Waugh’s delicate brush work.

The two covers included a subtly funky version of Kenny Garrett’s “Brother Hubbard”, presumably a tribute to Freddie, that included extended features for Boxall on bass, Francis on acoustic piano and finally Waugh at the drums. It was the most orthodox ‘jazz’ piece that the trio played.

The trio rounded off proceedings with an effective arrangement of the James Bay song “Hold Back The River” with the leader again impressing on acoustic piano.

This was a highly successful gig for the Emily Francis Trio who gave an assured performance that made a big impression on the Birmingham public. Some may argue that their music is still a little too derivative but for me this performance served to confirm the considerable potential exhibited by the album. Emily Francis and her team have the ability to develop further as composers and performers and this current tour will help to enhance their position on the UK jazz scene. I envisage that their second album, when it arrives, will both consolidate and build upon the success of the first.

The remaining dates on the Emily Francis Trio “The Absent” tour are ;

22/02/2016,  Chelsea Bar & Brasserie, Cheltenham

23/02/2016, Dempsey’s , Cardiff

15/03/2016, Norwich Jazz Club, Madder Market Theatre, Norwich

More information at;


From Trevor Boxall via Facebook;

Sweet review of our Birmingham gig from Thanks to Ian Mann for taking the time to come and check out the gig and for the positive vibes. Thanks to all those who came and made it such a great gig for us!





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