iiii are a quartet of jazz-trained musicians, keen to combine their education and talents with soul and R&B influences. It’s a tiptoe into more commercial waters for pianist Paul Bloom and bassist Connor Schultze, who were last heard on a surprisingly fun and vibrant jazz instrumental album inspired by the works of Dr Seuss.
Most of the best songs are at the beginning of the album. ‘Trust’ dispenses with the somewhat wayward approach of the later tracks and is an early, fine example of how to incorporate jazz into a modern, soulful pop song; given voice by Laila Smith’s pitch perfect tones. Even better is ‘Agree To Disagree’ where Smith and Bloom provide the melodic core but they are brilliantly assisted by the crisp and intense rhythms from Shultze and Jeremy Dutton. It actually sounds like an alliance between Swing Out Sister and Steely Dan.
Further on, the downbeat yet warm ‘One Million’ is reminiscent of early 1980’s Scottish act The French Impressionists whilst the impassioned delivery of ‘Is That Really What You Want’ features Smith at her most soul-baring, although she gives a very refined turn for the poignant ‘1999’. Elsewhere, the exciting moments are more sporadic as the music becomes less infectious and more improvisational. It may be a good way to showcase their versatility and you can visualise these performances going down well in a live setting but on record, the “nice at dinner parties” vibe feels a little flat.
So, at just under an hour in length, ‘iiii’ the album is definitely too long but for at least half this time, the young foursome demonstrate the necessary warmth and soul as well as the kind of arrangement and songwriting skills which make a mockery of their youth. With all band members still attending school, it will be interesting to hear what their next move will be.
Swing Out Sister, The French Impressionists