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MACE FRANCIS PLUS 11 The big band theory


Mace Francis has brought back the power, vigour, and versatility of a big band with his new project, Mace Francis Plus 11. Inspired by the swingin’ jazz sounds of the 1950s, his new album Isolation Emancipation is a deft exploration of a bygone era; a big, bold brass section, snappy melodies, and contagious rhythms; which audiences can catch live as the group celebrate the launch at Lyric’s Underground on Thursday, November 25.

The new 10-track album was mostly written throughout last year when the world was on hold. With peppy horn riffs, dizzying vocals and a super tight rhythm section, the album drew from the soul and nostalgia of the past, which, while wasn’t necessarily “better” times – they were perhaps “happier.”

Inspired by the remark of a friend who asked if he ever wrote “happy music,” Mace set out to prove (to himself) that he can certainly write outside of the more moodier sounds of the 14-piece Mace Francis Orchestra (MFO),

“As well as for MFO, I was writing songs that hadn’t really found the right band or instrumentation to present them in,” he explains. “The 2020 lockdown gave me a lot of time to think and plan, and so I set about creating the Plus 11-sized ensemble and creating these happier and sometimes silly songs.”

“This album is a look back and nod to some of my favourite historic jazz composers, like Marty Paich, Thad Jones, Bill Holman, Ellington and Charles Mingus,” he said. “Normally I compose music that tries to look forward and try new things, however this time it is a celebration of the fun swingin’ music I love to listen to on the weekend at home.”

Mace Francis said he was excited to bring the new music and project to the stage as it will be a new experience for him. “Firstly it is a new band,” he said. “It is a slightly smaller band than some of my other bands, with only 12 musicians instead of 14 or 18 or 20 musicians. This 12-piece ensemble has a French horn player and a piano player, which is different for me as I never written for French horn and I normally work with guitar players.”

Francis has assembled some of Perth’s top players to make up his ensemble, including Lucy Iffla (vocals); Gemma Farrell, Jayden Blockley, Jemima Mills (saxophones); Marty Pervan, Ricki Malet (trumpets); Tahlia Denn (French horn), Steve Bickley, Harry Mitchell (piano), Alistair Peel (bass) and Bronton Ainsworth (drums).

He acknowledged it would be cosy with a full 12-piece band on stage at the launch. “It will be a tight fit on stage but we are all friends. We will be playing all 10 tunes from the album as well as a selection of songs from Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Holman that inspired the some of the project. There will be two sets of music that will make you smile, laugh and maybe even shed a tear. We are really look forward to playing in that great room at Lyrics Underground.”

Dr Mace Francis is known as a predominant jazz figure and advocate for original Australian big band music. Best recognised for his work with the Mace Francis Orchestra who have toured nationally, recorded seven albums, and collaborated with renowned international artists, he is also Artistic Director of the Western Australia Youth Jazz Orchestra and Festival Director of the Perth International Jazz Festival.

Known for his irrepressible energy on-stage, Mace is also a guitarist and a trombone player (which he only picked up in 2015). In fact, this album is the first time he has played trombone on his own recorded music and features his own lyrics which he hasn’t written since he was at high school. Isolation Emancipation is also his tenth album release and he’s commissioned over 30 new compositions through the Chinese Whispers collaborative project.

Mace Francis Plus 11 will perform a preview of Isolation Emancipation on the eve of its launch on Thursday, November 25 at Lyric’s Underground. For more info and to buy tickets, head to oztix.com.au​

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