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Emily Francis Trio

The Absent


by Ian Mann

July 27, 2015


An album that reveals Emily Francis to be a musician and composer with enormous potential. A highly promising début.

Emily Francis Trio

“The Absent”

Emily 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. This self released album represents her leadership début and teams her with a trio featuring Trevor Boxall on electric bass and Liam Waugh at the drums, the latter perhaps best known as a member of WorldService Project.

Francis plays piano, Rhodes and synthesiser on six original compositions credited to the Emily Francis Trio. Guitarist Stefanos Tsourelis guests on the penultimate track, a piece entitled “Trunk”.
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 at the Ealing and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals, presumably as part of the Fringe programme at the latter, and are scheduled to appear at The Hideaway in Streatham as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, an event that should represent a good showcase for the trio and their music.

The album opens with “Hops ‘n’ Scotch”, great title, presumably meant as a paean to the therapeutic qualities of good beer and whisky. Francis plays Rhodes and synth on this groove based item that immediately dips into the bag marked 70’s jazz funk and fusion. Boxall and Waugh provide some solid, but far from predictable, grooves and Francis solos expansively and effectively on Rhodes and also adds some authentically vintage sounding synth for good measure. It all makes for an arresting and enjoyable opener.

The leader moves to acoustic piano for “Winnebago”, introducing the piece with an absorbing passage of unaccompanied playing. With the introduction of bass and drums the piece develops an engaging loping groove which Mark McKergow’s review for London Jazz News informs me is in 12/8. This forms the jumping off point for a sparkling Francis solo that demonstrates that she is also a highly skilled acoustic piano soloist. She receives excellent support from Boxall and Waugh both of whom are subtle but propulsive. Once again the tune reveals the trio’s ability for writing a catchy hook, it’s perhaps no coincidence that the band’s name is sometimes shortened to EFT, one suspects that a certain Swedish piano trio might also be added to that list of influences quoted above.

“Redshift” is a slow burner which begins with a highly melodic acoustic piano hook allied to a gentle but persistent groove. Boxall takes the first solo, his electric bass sound both liquid and melodic. Francis switches to Rhodes mid tune and the music moves up a gear with the introduction of a livelier, funkier groove. She then moves back to acoustic piano for a solo that is uplifting through its flowing lyricism. 

I assume that the title of “Sabo” is a tribute to Francis’ former tutor, the late and much missed Pete Saberton. The mood is celebratory with Francis soloing joyously on acoustic piano above Boxall’s buoyant bass pulse and Waugh’s crisp, subtly detailed drumming. Boxall undertakes a bouncy, funky solo that nevertheless retains a high level of sophistication. McKergow names this piece as his favourite on the album and I like to think that Pete Saberton himself would also have approved.

“Trunk” begins with the sound of Waugh at the kit and his grooves lead us headlong into 70’s jazz funk and fusion territory with the urgent electric guitar of guest Stefano Tsourelis added to the group sound. The guitarist takes the opening solo, soaring into the stratosphere above Francis’ keyboard washes and the hard driving grooves of Waugh and Boxall.  The drummer is given the opportunity to cut loose mid tune, his dynamic circumnavigations of his kit punctuated by bass and keyboard stabs. Boxall’s bass is heavily treated during his funky, bubbling solo before Tsourelis returns as the tune goes grooving out. It’s all very retro with a big debt to Herbie and co but in the hands of these young twenty somethings there’s also something fresh and invigorating about it. These guys (and gal) sound as if they’re having fun.

The closing title track initially finds Francis back on acoustic piano and has an epic, grandiose quality about it that finally makes sense of those prog rock references. There’s a lyrical, anthemic quality too, plus a sly funkiness which comes out during the course of Francis’ piano solo as Waugh and Boxall dig in deeply. Later the rhythm players drop out entirely leaving Francis to undertake a lengthy solo piano excursion that continues to engage the listener’s attention with its strong rhythmic and melodic patterns. Francis also appears on synthesiser on this track and plays a second solo on this instrument as Boxall and Waugh return to the fray. She really soars on the synth, her playing being given wings by the energetic support provided by Boxall and Waugh. 

“The Absent” represents a highly promising début from Emily Francis and her trio. The leader reveals herself to be a skilled and ambitious composer with a good eye for a tune as strong melodies, riffs and grooves abound. She also conjures up an impressive array of sounds from her three instruments and is highly convincing as an all round keyboard player. For me it was interesting to hear Liam Waugh’s playing in a different context to WorldService Project - “The Absence” helps to confirm what a good all round drummer he is. Boxall’s was a new name to me but he also impresses throughout the recording with his flexible grooves and melodic soloing.

Although the music is inevitably a little derivative at times this is an album that reveals Emily Francis to be a musician and composer with enormous potential and the trio is certainly a band that I would relish the opportunity of seeing live. Hopefully “The Absent” will help to establish Francis on the scene and we will get to see and hear a lot more from this highly talented newcomer in the future. 

The Emily Francis Trio will appear at The Hideaway Streatham on Monday 16th November 2015 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. They will be supporting -isq, the quartet led by vocalist Irene Serra. Please visit the Hideaway website for full details.

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