KoJ was excited by the emergence of the Emily Francis Trio in 2015, reviewing their appearance at the EFG London Jazz Festival, where they played support to ISQ, and publishing a positive review of their debut album, The Absent, which came out in early 2016 (reviewed here).
We noted the influence of Brad Mehldau, and in particular his work with Jon Brion, but also Steely Dan and Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock.
We’ve been eagerly awaiting their second album, and finally, some six years later, it’s here. And it’s quite a departure, with more electronica and even prog-rock influences.
That might sound like a major re-invention, but as Kevin Rowland, of Dexys fame, once noted – only if you didn’t see the changes in between. The band, with new drummer Jamie Murray replacing Liam Waugh, released a video single in 2017, funded by the Arts Council and singles from the new album during the lockdown period.
I must admit, I was not immediately taken by the singles. In part, I tend to pay less attention, and have always been more of an album man. But in addition, the new songs make more sense as part of the whole. And so we come to Luma, the new album, which came out in the early summer of 2022.
The album opens with Idol, one of the early singles from the album, with a refrain played by Emily on both piano and electronic keyboard. As always with the Trio, the melody is a delight, but it’s the drum sound that sets it apart from what went before, the more produced sound giving it a more modern flavour. There’s still space for an acoustic piano solo, but this is followed by a synthesizer solo.
Watch the Emily Francis Trio perform Idol live at Ronnie's here:
Escape From The Echo Chamber is closer to the old Headhunters-type sound, proving that these influences have not been discarded. Again, the influence of Murray can be felt, his playing more dynamic, but also more subtle, than his predecessor. It works well.
Le Tambour is superb, a more groove-driven tune, led by the rhythm section, before some warm electronic keyboard from the band’s leader.
Broken Kingdom, Part 1, starts with a prog-rock feel, with a hint of late 1970s era Genesis, and there’s a nice breakdown, with a cool bass line from Trevor Boxall, quickly joined by some funky drums and keyboard. Part 2 is more acoustic, and the most laid-back tune on the album, too.
The Kite & The Crow is the album’s most ambitious piece; it has three distinct parts, describing an aerial battle that took place west of London, where Francis and Boxall live. The opening part is based on Boxall’s exciting bass line. The middle part is funkier, propelled by Francis’s acoustic piano solo and the drums of Murray, until the more peaceful close, where the kite and crow apparently find their own space. It’s a complex piece, with multiple time changes, prog-style, but hangs together well.
2 Bed Flat On Mars opens like a modern-Kraftwerk piece, before settling into a cool groove, with a more produced sound, courtesy of producer Jason Kingsland, who lends the album more of a crossover appeal with some nice touches.
Backseat Driver, as the title suggests, takes the listener on a journey, opening with a fast-paced electronic groove, again taking us through several time and scenery changes, before the more chilled album closer, A Night In.
Emily Francis claims that the band’s new sound owes part of its feel to David Bowie’s swansong album, Blackstar, and New York jazz musicians that fed into that sound, such as Donny McCaslin and keyboard player Jason Linder. The result is less Steely Dan influenced, and definitely has more of a modern, electronic feel than before. Whilst they may lose a few of their old fans along the way, I suspect they’ve also opened up to a new, wider audience who appreciate the new direction. The warmth and melody remain intact, and it will be exciting to see the new-look Trio in a live setting.