Mace Francis OrchestraThe Mace Francis Orchestra was the latest, in a long line of presentations by SIMA, the Sydney Improvised Music Association; a national treasure, not just a local one. The setting was The Sound Lounge, Downstairs, at The Seymour Centre, one of the country's more conducive and congenial spaces for such things. Acoustically, it's right on and the mix, last night, was as good as I can ever remember hearing. Thankfully, it was recorded! I say thankfully, 'cause, in my book, too many great performances disappear into the ether and, at best, the echoes of legend.

Mace Francis and his not-that-big band are a bunch of boy wonders! Mace, who composes and energetically conducts, was still at school a little over a decade ago, so that gives you some idea of the precociously youthful talent we're talking about.

Their musicianship is flawless, with some impossibly seasoned, mature playing, from men, in some cases, barely out of short pants. Self-assured, powerhouse drummer, Greg Brenton, is very much at the heart of things, with some warm, unobtrusive underpinning from the bassist, whose name, (alongside a few others, regrettably), escapes me; hey, it's a BIG band!

Tim Jago is a studious, clean, fluid and, actually, quite sublime guitarist, who has the rare gift of being able to meld technical brilliance with a knowing feel.

Alistair McEvoy brings to mind the greatest of lyrical alto players: (I kid you not) think Byrd, Coltrane, or Lester Young.

Seated adjacent, Dan Thorne exhibited a brighter tone and was his every bit McEvoy's match in the solo stakes. A couple of his compositions were also showcased; beautiful tunes, of innovative construction, which point to a shining future as both writer and instrumentalist.

Tilman Robinson plays a mean bass 'bone and Callum G'Froerer makes prolific and mellifluous contributions on trumpet and, especially, flugel.

Mark Sprogowski gives good baritone, too.

And let's not forget Ben Collins' soprano, a kind of caramel swirl, taking one and all, sweetly, along with it.

But what of the set? Well-stocked with originals, from several talented writers, in the group, it hardly needed, say, Thad Jones' Just Blues, but I was glad they incorporated it, especially for the limbering-up it allowed axeman genius, Jago.

Mace's charting of saxman Dan's What About Jed gave nothing away to jazz orchestra maestros of bygone days: innovative, dynamic; exploiting the power and versatility of the collective to the max. The art of big band, surely, is to achieve just that, while allowing the space for individuality to shine through; MFO succeeds prodigiously, in both.

Mace is also ace when it comes to revitalising classics, like The Preacher, which you might remember from Jimmy Smith's, or Horace Silver & The Jazz Messengers, repertoire. And let's not forget the leader's contributions: for example, the gentle, harmonious Melodian Melody puts him, for mine, in the fine art major league of composer/arranger/conductors, whose foremost local exponents would have to include or, perhaps, be dominated by, the likes of Grabowsky.

Enchanting, unforgettable, moving music!

There's a jazz son, rising, in the west.

Let's hope the MFO isn't completely obscured by the thick, prevailing, overhyped commercial fog.



Sun 29 June, 4pm Jazz Fremantle @ the Navy Club, High St
Bookings (08) 9245 9008

Mon 30 June, 8pm Perth Jazz Society The Charles Hotel, Charles St

Thurs 3 July, 8pm Jazzworx! Club, 4 Exhibition St, Bowen Hills
Bookings (07) 3216 1110

Sat 5 July, 7.30pm Star Court Theatre, Star Court Arcade, Molesworth Street
Bookings (02) 6622 0300

Sun 6 July, 6pm Brisbane Jazz Club, 1 Annie St, Kangaroo Point
Bookings (07) 3391 2006

Wed 9 July, 8.30pm The Blue Birdy @ The Buddha Bar, Skinners Shoot Road

Thur 10 July, 8pm The Folkus Room, 5 Heard Street, Mawson
$15/$12 concession Bookings (02) 6262 7265

Fri 11 July, 7.30pm Jazz Basement, 51 Elgin Boulevard, Wodonga
$20/$15 concession Bookings (02) 6056 3603

Sat 12 July, 8.30pm SIMA, The Sound Lounge, The Seymour Centre
$25/$20 Concession Bookings (02) 9036 6292

Tues 15 July, 8.30pm Bennetts Lane Jazz Club 25 Bennetts Lane
$15/$12 Concession Bookings (03) 9663 2856

Wed 16 July, 7.30pm The Barn Palais Nelson Rd
Bookings (08) 8726 8250

Thur 17 July, 8pm The Promethean 116 Grote Street
$15/$10 Concession (08) 8212 0266

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