Music without a postcode

Well-known jazz composer and conductor Mace Francis releases a tenth album with his orchestra and confesses it’s his most musically revealing. 

By Ara Jansen

When you spend a lot of time working with other people’s songs and directing bands, it’s really nice to spend some time on your own creative projects. 

For Perth-based jazz notable Mace Francis, his tenth album with the Mace Francis Orchestra was the opportunity to let his imagination
run wild. 

No stranger to Australia’s jazz community, you might recognise him as artistic director of the Perth International Jazz Festival and the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, or current Churchill Fellow and composer and band leader of projects including Mace Francis Plus 11 and his New York Nonet.

But if you fancy getting a bit more up close and personal, the Mace Francis Orchestra’s new album is titled No Postcode. Released on April 12, it features six jazz and big band instrumental tracks which have been written and taken different forms over the past six years. What they share is a chance for Mace to express different sides, musical influences, harmonies and orchestral colours.

“I’m particularly excited with this one because I took my time and I wasn’t in any rush,” says Mace.

The album’s title track was a commission for his funeral from friend Victor O’Connor. Performed live at Victor’s wake, it explores isolation, loss and loneliness but isn’t a sombre listen, especially being influenced by Frank Zappa and Turkish folk. 

“I was able to play him a recording from a rehearsal before he died. He loved it and it got the thumbs up. We played a set at the funeral, and it was a real celebration of his life.”

Mace doesn’t play an instrument in the MFO. He directs from the front as conductor and writes and arranges all the original music they perform. 

“I lead the orchestra to make sure the music lands the way I want it to, the way I imagine it to sound. The great musicians I work with make it come to life. My job as a conductor during a performance is to make sure everyone comes in when they are supposed to. They all know where they are in the music, but if they look up and need help, then I’m there to guide them through.”

Mace still gets nervous presenting a new tune to the musicians, even though the orchestra has been going for nigh on two decades. While the line-up does change from album to album, musicians Ricki Malet, Ben Collins, Mark Sprogowski, Catherine Noblet and Greg Brenton have remained stalwarts and do numerous solos on the tracks.

The album’s front cover is an original black and white photograph of a caravan, isolated under a tree and cloudy sky, which gives off a feeling of isolation and loneliness.  

“This album is more sombre than the others. It’s also the most personal. It’s my main creative outlet. All the other things I do in my life, all the other musicians and music I work with, influence the MFO. Watching younger musicians grow is inspiring. Meeting people from around the world and watching them play inspires me. Composing music is a lonely business, so all the things I do give me the best of both worlds.

“Musically, however, I think I’m much better at celebrating the darker things in my life than the good things, though I am not a depressed person. I like music that is a bit darker and with more tension, I gravitate towards that. 

“With No Postcode I got to be more self-indulgent with my darkness. I see a beauty in the darkness as well. The textures and tensions are gorgeous. I see a lightness, beauty, hope and potential in that.” 

No Postcode will be released digitally and on CD and vinyl and the album launch happens on April 13 in the early slot at the Ellington Jazz Club.

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