Irene Serra, 606 Club, London – 25 May 2014

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Waif-like beneath a honey-coloured spotlight, Irene Serra – Italian jazz vocalist and finalist at the Shure Montreux Jazz Competition in 2009, looked at home at the 606 Club in Chelsea, to which she is no stranger. Here pianist John Crawford joined her for a lunchtime set, with Richard Sadler on double bass and Chris Nichols on drums.

This tight, authentic-sounding quartet performed an eclectically interesting mix of tunes; from jazz standards, bossa nova and originals from the band’s other project, ISQ, to Serra’s moving cover of pop tune, ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus. Opening number, ‘If I Were A Bell’, from the musical Guys and Dolls, lifted the mood instantly, with Sadler’s unswerving walking bass line effectively underpinning the velvety timbre of Serra’s considered, seamless singing.

Tastefully-placed accented fills from Crawford on piano were reminiscent of Count Basie’s one-finger swinging solos during bossa nova, ‘O Pato’, for which, in an inclusive gesture, the band were joined by 606 owner and flautist, Steve Rubie. Charlie Parker’s blues, ‘Billie’s Bounce’, with vocalese by Jon Hendrix, featured an astoundingly fast-spoken scat solo by Serra. Her energy here was sapped a little by the overly understated performances of the instrumentalists behind her, though, unaided perhaps by less warm vibes than usual coming their way from the tiny audience (the sunny bank holiday had unfortunately enticed people away).

In imaginatively plucking the strings of their respective instruments, Sadler and Crawford built up ringing rhythmic and harmonic textures accompanied by scampering drums, creating an edgier feel in ‘This Bird Has Flown’ – a single off ISQ’s first album, ISQ. Inexhaustibly charming Serra and band’s gig made for an enjoyable afternoon of surprising and intelligent arrangements. Their next ISQ album, is due for release in the autumn of 2014.

– Gemma Boyd