ISQ – Requiem for the Faithful
(CPR CD 03. CD review by Alison Bentley)
ISQ are the London-based Irene Serra Quartet, and this is their third highly original CD. The distinctive vocal-led mix of jazz, rock, pop and R&B is there – a clutch of new songs with strong melodies that stay with you. The first noticeable thing is that half the 14 tracks last for around a minute or less. “We were quite taken by the idea of having interludes within the album that tied the full-length pieces together, to create one long, uninterrupted album,” says Serra. They’re like short stories, waiting to have their themes teased out at fuller length on a gig, alternating on the album with longer tracks.
We All Bleed has rock-inflected chords, subtle electronic effects and impassioned vocals. Ode To Myself (Requiem mix) is longer, with an exquisite free jazz intro – rustling drums (Chris Nickolls), a sprinkling of piano (new member Naadia Sheriff) and impressionistic improv from Serra – a reminder that she grew up in Italy studying with Tiziana Ghiglioni. As the song develops, there’s a classic ISQ sound: high piano voicings of simple chords over a sinewy bass solo (Richard Sadler), and a lyric of troubled love.
There are a number of demanding time signatures worn lightly, and the short In My Bed, with its synth-led EDM funk, flips from 7 to 3 and 6 in the ensuing rock feel of Stone. It’s song about how love can bring feelings of inadequacy; Serra’s fast vibrato has elements of rock and French chanson, with a bluesy lightness to her solo. At The Seams, with its trance-pop Aphex Twin-like electronica, contrasts with the paradoxically peaceful Panic Room. The chords are reassuring, till the double time Latin-funk groove cushions a delicately rhythmic piano solo. I listen out each time for L.A.S., a short alt take drum and bass chorus from Loving A Stranger. The longer version is meditative, with high ringing piano riffs and a strong bass solo, responding to the abstract vocalising. The other shorts leave you wanting more: the glittering Fender Rhodes of Little Girl; the irresistible Latin electro-pop of Run to You; the yearning lyrics and subliminal synths of Where Beauty Lives.
Orbit has several phases (“I feel you now orbiting my sense somehow”) as Nickolls’ incendiary drumming builds over simple but suspense-filled bass and piano riffs. In Paper Doll (Requiem mix) the bass roams around the chords, with calm verses and bigger choruses. Lost Where We Belong, for Serra’s late mother, has emotional intensity in the singing as the muted minor verses give way to a more upbeat major groove.
As always with ISQ albums, Requiem for the Faithful repays a lot of listening. The songs and arrangements take root in the memory, as they bring together many styles, played with jazz freedom and sensibility.