MACE FRANCIS ORCHESTRA ChineseWhispers Listen/Hear (no #)
Ricki Malet, Callum G’Froerer, Brendan Baer – tpts; Alex Benn, Robin Murray, Tilman Robinson – tbns; Ben Collins, Daniel Thorne, Sean Little,Mark Sprogowskie – saxes; Tim Jago – gtr: Wayne Slater – bs; Greg Brenton – dms. [Perth: 9 Dec, 2009; The Ellington Jazz Club] released 2011.
Chinese Whispers IV/ Six Sided Container/Woogie/ Karesansui/Condensed Melk/A Cara-Mellow Mapes/Rumour Has It/Little White Lie. [TT 58 min]
MACE FRANCIS NEW YORK NONET Land Speed Record Listen/Hear (no #)
Mat Joderell – tpt; Alan Ferber – tbn; Jon Gordon – as: Dan Pratt – ts; Douglas Yeats – bs clt; Nate Radley – gtr; Sean Wayland – pno; Matt Clohesy – bs; Mark Ferber – dms. [Brooklyn, NY: 25-26 Jan, 2011] released 2012.
Rosé/Land Speed Record/Pandora’s Mood/Samsara/Orla/Why A?/Well… Maybe Someday. [TT 52 min]
The national broadcaster here in Oz has a dedicated digital jazz channel available on line 24/7 that one can get via http://abcjazz.net.au/. I spend time there with some regularity to my musical satisfaction/satiation! One Australian name new to me that cropped up during their broadcasts is one Mace Francis from Perth, WA – he’s a writer/arranger/band leader whose recordings caught my ear. Beginning as a guitarist/banjoist, he became hooked on big bands ca. 2000 (Bob Brookmeyer’s work being a prime “hook”) and he began writing and arranging for bands while a student at The Western Australia Academy for the Performing Arts in Perth. I kept hearing pieces on the radio from a couple of his albums and thought I should share his music with y’all. There are two earlier albums by his big band as well as these which are only available as down-loads (“Neverever… Well, Maybe Someday” [Little Louis Records – 2009], “Introducing the Mace Francis Orchestra” [2006)].
Francis has done some heavy listening and study into the approaches of the modern big band and has digested them all very nicely, producing a very palatable end-product that should appeal to those (like myself) enamored of the larger jazz groups. “Chinese Whispers IV” besides being a racially insensitive title, begins with a musical creation composed consecutively by band members (as has been done by book authors – ergo the title.
My musical interpretation is to have a group of composers consecutively create a set number of bars each. The bars are to be completed and then passed on to the next composer, who will then pass ONLY their composed bars to the next composer. This way each composer will only see the previous composer’s work – never the whole piece. Why? To make it interesting.
There are rules for this one piece, and they are:
…use only the following notes: Db; D; F; Ab: Bb, C (in any order or octave)
The tempo… set at crochet =120.
(each composer will) have 48 hours to finish (their) 10 bars and pass them on.
It must be scored for the instrumentation provided.
Time signature may change – (it is) passed around to each composer twice.
This seems like someone has too much time on one’s hands, a bit like the musical equivalent to the 1969 group-written soft-core novel NAKED CAME THE STRANGER, but the result is validly interesting; it all “works” musically beyond its novelty of composition. Presumably, there have been I – III in performance before this. The remaining seven pieces on the album, each with a different composer (one by Francis), are done more traditionally(!) and are of equal musical quality. With Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, George Russell, Duke, a.o. being de facto “mentors”, what else would you expect?! Recorded at a club in Perth, this is a mighty fine big band record of high quality musically and sonically. Being a “live” club recording, there is no un-necessary studio–based tidying up. The big band is alive and well in the west coast of Australia with a big sound when needed!
With Francis’ long-term connections to the local WA conservatoria, he has been fortunate to have met many musicians from “away”, and such connecting with visiting firemen over time has led to his recording a set in Brooklyn with “American” musicians. A smaller group than his “home” band, Francis’ use of the nine instruments shows another slice of his composing and arranging talent outside of the big band format. It may be a “trick-of-the-sounds” effect, but there seems to be more soloing here, but with even more group sound coloration and texture. Mace Francis is jazz “sound painting” at its best and this is well demonstrated on these CDs – both albums are highly recommended to all.*
PETER B. LOWRY
* A new album has been released… I’ll track it down for us all!
Published: IAJRC JOURNAL; Vol. 48, No. 1 – Mar ’15 – p. 78-79.