Sunday, January 23, 2022

Mace Francis Plus 11: “Isolation Emancipation” (2021) CD Review

Mace Francis is a trombone player and composer based in Western Australia. He has released several albums with Mace Francis Orchestra, arranging jazz standards as well as composing his own material. His new project is Mace Francis Plus 11, a big band offering some swinging tunes to help transport us all to a different time. Isolation Emancipation, as the title suggests, was recorded when the lockdown ended, and the music contains a good amount of joy reflecting that sense of freedom and relief. This album features mostly original material written by Mace Francis. The band is made up of Gemma Farrell on alto saxophone, Jayden Blockley on saxophone and flute, Jemima Mills on baritone saxophone, Marty Pervan on trumpet, Ricki Malet on trumpet, Tahlia Denn on French horn, Steve Bickley on trombone, Mace Francis on trombone, Harry Mitchell on piano, Alistair Peel on bass, Bronton Ainsworth on drums, and Lucy Iffla on vocals. Lucy Iffla sings on half the tracks, the others being instrumentals.

This wonderful album opens with “Casserole For Two.” As it begins, Lucy Iffla sings, “Please pull up a chair/Relax, nothing to care about,” words many of us have been eager to hear. The last couple of years have been stressful for everyone the world over, and the four before that were also terrible for those of us in the United States. And this song is about getting together, enjoying each other’s company, having some wine. Sharing food, drink and conversation. What’s better? The lyrics were written by Minky Gardner. This track also features an excellent instrumental section, with great work from the horn section, as well as a delightful lead on piano. Things get more lively with “The Pudding March,” a tune that makes me wish I had taken dance lessons back when the Derby was offering them weekly here in Los Angeles. But, hey, we can make it up as we go, right? This is a fun instrumental number, featuring a good lead on trumpet. I also love that lead on piano, with that great bass line driving everything forward beneath it. Close your eyes, and you can easily imagine yourself at a hopping, swinging club like seventy years ago. That’s followed by a cover of Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude,” featuring a gorgeous vocal performance from Lucy Iffla, and some equally beautiful work on saxophone. And how fitting are these lyrics for the time of isolation during the pandemic: “I sit in my chair/Filled with despair/There’s no one could be so sad/With gloom everywhere/I sit and I stare/I know that I’ll soon go mad/In my solitude.”

“Isolation Emancipation,” the album’s title track is a delicious, cool number that struts and strolls right into your home and with a finger snap or two transforms your place into the hippest club, full of merriment, music, and dancing. You’ll be tapping your toes and smiling, and not wanting reality to return to whatever it was before this tune began. This track even features a lead on bass. You can’t really ask for anything more.  That’s followed by the album’s second cover, a surprising choice, “Home On The Range,” written by Daniel E. Kelley. When I think of this song, I think of the Neil Young version that plays at the beginning of the film Where The Buffalo Roam. This version is of course quite a bit different from that one, with Lucy Iffla delivering a pretty vocal performance. The section with the piano lead has kind of a late-night vibe that I love. Then we get a track titled “Jolly Good.” You can guess by that title that it’s going to be lighthearted and fun, and indeed it is. There is a playfulness about it, and there is a moment in its first minute that even reminds me of the music from the animated series Family Guy. I love the way this track progresses. There are some wild, sexy moments where the song feels like it is taking place in a bordello in New Orleans, and time is no longer a factor. And it moves on from there, and is totally enjoyable from beginning to end. I love that work on drums toward the end.

When you hear Lucy Iffla sing “I’m In The Mood For Love,” you too will be in the mood. This is a cheerful rendition that seems capable itself of spreading love over the land. Lucy Iffla even includes a bit of scat. That’s followed by “The Monk, The Drunk And Derek The Researcher,” an interesting piece that begins with a beat that seems to announce something serious. But then the horns have this sexy, relaxed, almost drugged vibe, like they are lounging around on a giant bed, surrounded by hookahs. Then the style changes, feeling more put together, ready to go out in the light of day. It starts to feel like not only a particular setting, but a tale taking place there as well. This track goes through several changes, but smoothly, naturally, and it ends up being one of my personal favorites. Then “Squint Your Eyes” features lyrics written by Mace Francis and Lucy Iffla. “Squint your eyes and see the world for what it might be/Now all the mess has left my view.” There is a strong mood to this piece. The album concludes with a totally delightful rendition of Shelton Brooks’ “Some Of These Days” that features some wonderful work on trombone and trumpet.

CD Track List

  1. Casserole For Two
  2. The Pudding March
  3. In My Solitude
  4. Isolation Emancipation
  5. Home On The Range
  6. Jolly Good
  7. I’m In The Mood For Love
  8. The Monk, The Drunk And Derek The Researcher
  9. Squint Your Eyes
  10. Some Of These Days

Isolation Emancipation was released on November 26, 2021.

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