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Album Review

Mace Francis Plus 11: Isolation Emancipation

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Mace Francis Plus 11: Isolation Emancipation
After a brief pause to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, Australian composer and arranger Mace Francis is back—with a brand new musical wardrobe, a new axe (trombone) and a pared-down ensemble reminiscent of the classic Art Pepper + Eleven album (with arrangements by Marty Paich) from 1960. Like that earlier album, Isolation Emancipation was written with Paich in mind—this is by and large light-hearted, happy music reminiscent of the West Coast "cool wave" of well over half a century ago, and quite unlike anything Francis, known for his progressive disposition, has recorded before.

One thing Francis' album has, which its predecessor did not, is a vocalist, Lucy Iffla. What it does not have is an Art Pepper, or any component approaching his superb artistry. Nevertheless, Francis does the best he can with what he has, producing several bright arrangements in the Paich image and showing that a helping or two of happy suits him fine. It should be noted that only five of the charts are instrumentals; Iffla sings on the others (and scats on one, "I'm in the Mood for Love"). She is pretty good, with a clear voice, sings on-key but leaves no lasting impression. Also, there are times when Francis abandons the Paich model and goes his own way, thus impairing the album's purpose.

The band is at its sunniest best on "The Pudding March," which comes closest to Paich in spirit (nice uncredited trumpet solo and a second by pianist Harry Mitchell to complement splendid timekeeping by drummer Bronton Ainsworth who does a credible impression of Mel Lewis). The bluesy title song is dapper and engaging, as is the melodic and playful "Jolly Good" (handsome statement on soprano saxophone by Jayden Blockley preceding another uncredited trumpet solo). After that, Francis chooses to slow the pace, borrowing a page from Duke Ellington's library on "The Monk, the Drunk and the Researcher" and closing with an understated version of the venerable standard "Some of These Days." Iffla sings on the breezy opener, "Casserole for Two," Ellington's "In My Solitude," a s-l-o-w version of the western classic "Home on the Range," "Mood for Love" and the melancholy "Squint Your Eyes," whose lyric she co-wrote with Francis.

In sum, this is a rather mixed bag. A pretty good venture (read: instrumentals) that could have been better given more astute choices (more Paich, less introspection). In other words, if you have a smart and proven plan, stay with it. And if any musician's name here is misspelled, that is because the typeface on the jacket cover is all but indecipherable, even when using a magnifying glass.

Track Listing

Casserole For Two; The Pudding March; In My Solitude; Isolation Emancipation; Home On The Range; Jolly Good; I'm In The Mood For Love; The Monk, The Drunk and Derek the Researcher; Squint Your Eyes; Some Of These Days.

Personnel

Mace Francis: composer/conductor; Steve Bickley: trombone; Harry Mitchell: piano; Alistair Peel: bass; Bronton Ainsworth: drums; Gemma Farrell: saxophone; Jayden Blockley: saxophone; Jemima Mills: saxophone; Marty Pervan: trumpet; Ricki Malet: trumpet; Tahlia Denn: french horn; Lucy Iffla: voice / vocals; Mace Francis Orchestra: band/orchestra.

Album information

Title: Isolation Emancipation | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Self Produced

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