Big and happy

 • The album artwork for Mace Francis Plus 11’s Isolation Emancipation.

MACE FRANCIS went proper old school for his latest jazz album with his big band recorded live in one room. 

There was no laying down one instrument at a time and endless fiddling with Pro Tools for Isolation Emancipation, so the record has a lovely ambience and spontaneity. 

“It was important to me that the album felt good and it can only feel good if we all play together in the same room at the same time,” Francis says. 

“The engineer Kieran Kenderessy knows how to do this well and has a bunch of great old microphones he has been collecting from around the world to get that acoustic jazz sound. 

“We set up in a big circle so we could all see and hear each other, but the microphones weren’t facing any other instrument.” 

Director of the Perth International Jazz Festival and artistic director of the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, Francis is no stranger to the world of jazz and has eight big band albums under his belt. 

But for Isolation Emancipation he ditched his usual dark and complex compositions after a friend from Japan asked “Do you ever write happy music?” 

“I normally write moodier and more serious big band music with dark harmonic colours, however I have had ideas, sketches and simple arrangements lying around waiting to be finessed for a project like this,” Francis says. 

“The overall theme is happier, lighter and more fun. The last 18 months have been so heavy and serious, I thought a fun swingin’ big band was needed in the world!” 

Drawing on the cool jazz of the 1950s, the album is an easy-going swing affair with nods to artists like Thad Jones, Charles Mingus and Nelson Riddle. 

The title track Isolation Emancipation is infectious and bluesy with the drummer so far behind the beat he is almost horizontal. 

The song sounds like a big old gas-guzzling Cadillac cruising down the highway at a leisurely 55 km/h. 

Other highlights include the Mingus-inspired Jolly Good and the smooth vocal number Casserole For Two. As well as writing the album and being the band leader, Francis plays guitar and in recent years took up trombone, which he plays on Isolation Emancipation. 

He says this 12-piece band is relatively small in big band terms with most of his outfits having about 20 members. 

“Running a large band is difficult but the rewards outweigh all the nightmares of trying to organise rehearsals, photo shoots and the logistics,” he says. 

“Playing large ensemble music is just the best. The energy of that many people on stage and everyone feeling the groove the same is what keeps me coming back and doing it again.” 

Mace Francis Plus 11 will play a special album launch gig at Lyric Lane in Maylands on Thursday (November 25). For tix see lyriclane.com.au/gigs-events 

By STEPHEN POLLOCK

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