Flight James Francies
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- 4My Day Will Come04:53
- 6Ain't Nobody04:32
- 7Reciprocal (Reprise)01:02
- 9Dark Purple04:47
- 11A Lover And A Fighter04:43
Info for Flight
Plenty of young musicians show promise, but very few enjoy the sort of meteoric rise that pianist, keyboardist and composer James Francies is currently experiencing. At only 23, he’s played with jazz headliners like Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Stefon Harris, Eric Harland, and Terrace Martin, and racked up equally impressive credits in hip-hop and R&B: from gigs with Ms. Lauryn Hill, José James, Common, and Nas, to studio time for Chance the Rapper’s Grammy-winning hit “No Problem” and Kodak Black, to appearances with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon alongside his mentor and friend Questlove.
Now comes Flight, the extraordinary debut album that welcomes Francies into the storied Blue Note Records family and finds him melding his jazz mastery and pop experience on 11 searching, engaging tracks. But as bold and new as this moment might seem for Francies, it’s also a homecoming, in more ways than one. Francies, like his Blue Note predecessors Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Chris Dave and Kendrick Scott, is a proud Houstonite and a graduate of that city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), one of the nation’s most reliable incubators for era-defining jazz talent. “Just to follow in their footsteps, let alone in the footsteps of Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell and all of these other artists who recorded for the label, it’s an honor,” Francies says. “And there’s a responsibility that comes with it too.”
As any Blue Note fan could tell you, that responsibility requires a skillful symmetry between jazz’s past and future—a willingness to bolster the art form’s history while saying something personal and unprecedented. On Flight, Francies achieves that balance while showcasing some of the best musicians of his generation—all of them trusted comrades and collaborators, and several of them fellow Houston standouts.
Francies has known his rhythm section—bassist Burniss Travis II and drummer Jeremy Dutton, both from Houston, and Dallas drummer Mike Mitchell, who handles one tune—since his early teens. Appearing on four tracks is Houston native Mike Moreno, among the most important guitarists in jazz today, who provided Francies with crucial support after he’d relocated to New York half a decade ago. “Whenever he was writing new music, he’d have me come over and play it,” Francies remembers. “He was always willing to share, and he’d always do gigs with me, even when I first got here. There’d be nobody in the audience, but he’d still do it.” On four other tracks, Francies’ singing lines entangle with the young vibraphone star Joel Ross, a Chicagoan the pianist met about eight years back. “Joel is one of the most talented people I know,” he says. “He’s always been that good—always.” Tenor saxophone giant Chris Potter—“a great mentor and a great bandleader,” Francies says—appears on a trio of cuts, and three uniquely powerful singers, YEBBA, Chris Turner, and Kate Kelsey-Sugg highlight one track apiece.
Just as integral to Flight’s tastefully innovative sound is Derrick Hodge, the Robert Glasper Experiment bassist and Blue Note recording artist who, as producer, helped Francies shape the album’s sonics. “We’ve been in contact for so long, so it was such a natural choice; the energy between us is endearing and sympathetic, and he’s such a positive guy,” Francies says. “He’s someone who, like myself, I consider a hybrid musician—someone who can go between different genres.
"I wanted Flight to have its own sonic identity,” Francies states, “so I blended electronic-sounding stuff with acoustic playing, without compromising any of the compositions or the soloing.”
Indeed, Francies’ writing remains direct and compelling, even as stealthy twists to the production, rhythm and harmony give Flight a subversive edge. Beautiful and cathartic but shot through with mystery, “Leaps” opens the album as a sweeping display of the ensemble chemistry to come—“a nice appetizer for the whole record,” Francies says. “Reciprocal,” a startling, fiery showcase for Ross and Potter, satisfies on a visceral level as well as a cerebral one, should you attempt to ID its time signature. “Sway” is a swinging quartet workout with casually burning solo work from Francies and Moreno. A moving paean to hope, “My Day Will Come” was co-written by the pianist and his dear friend YEBBA, an Arkansas-raised singer currently based in Brooklyn. “Crib”—Houston, in the locals’ parlance—is four-plus minutes of white-hot, fusion-soaked post-bop: Ross, Francies and Potter hook up on a labyrinthine melody, atop rhythm section work that’s urgent and state-of-the-art.
An inspired remake of the Rufus and Chaka Khan hit “Ain’t Nobody” features impassioned vocals by Australia’s Kate Kelsey-Sugg and matches neo-soul with 21st-century jazz and flashes of hip-hop—in other words, “that one has been Houston-ized,” Francies says. “It’s a song I grew up on,” he continues. “It’s one of my mom’s favorite songs, and one of my favorite songs, too.” (And let the record show that Khan and Questlove dig it.) “ANB” and “Dark Purple” are exercises in artfully produced atmosphere and affecting songcraft. “Dreaming” is futuristic soul featuring electronically enhanced vocals by Chris Turner, and Mike Mitchell’s hyperkinetic drum work. “A Lover and a Fighter” is a pitch-perfect set-closer, with enigmatic writing, a stunning crescendo spotlight for Potter and more of those savvy production flourishes; with expert control, Francies and Hodge add flecks of pop and electronica without distracting from the next-level performances.
Francies says that his experiences outside of jazz have helped him with concepts like “assembling sounds, consistency, delivery and the ability to support,” and it certainly isn’t difficult to hear these lessons throughout Flight. An embodiment of the Blue Note ethos at this thriving moment in the label’s history, it’s a dynamic, ultramodern jazz record, infused with pop, hip-hop and R&B, that remains entertaining from start to finish. “This record is for everybody,” Francies says. “It’s for the college students to nerd out on, and it’s for somebody to pop in at home or work out to.”
James Francies, piano, keyboards
Michael Moreno, guitar
Burniss Travis II, electric and acoustic bass
Jeremy Dutton, drums
Even before moving to New York City in 2013, pianist James Francies had generated a well deserved buzz in the jazz arena. He is the youngest recipient of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) President's Youth Award, DownBeat Magazine awarded him twice for Composition and Jazz Arrangement, his band opened for the legendary Jazz Crusaders reunion and he performed at Monterey Jazz Festival. GRAMMY nominated pianist Taylor Eigsti describes Francies as, "poised to become a major voice on the instrument. He has the passion, creativity and ability to be a real leader amongst his generation."
At 22, he keeps moving forward. Since he’s been in NYC, James has toured and recorded with the likes of with Eric Harland, The Roots, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, Chris Dave and Drumhedz, and fronts his own band, Kinetic. Francies can often be seen on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC with the Roots. He is currently in the process of recording his debut album for the legendary Blue Note Record Label. And he was just named one of "8 Artists You Should Know” by the genre-bending website Revive Music. Francies has also been featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Uproxx, Downbeat Magazine, and other publications. Mr. Francies also works with drummer and producer ?uestlove of the Roots on numerous projects such as music for commercials, film scores, and singles for different artists. Francies recently was apart of the film score for "Vincent N' Roxxy" with Questlove that stars Zoe Kravitz, Emile Hirsch, and Kid Cudi. The film can currently be viewed on Netflix.
Encouraged by his parents to learn by experience James reveled in the rich Houstonian culture exploring the arts and gaining early exposure to music in church and through formal lessons at age 5. While assimilating the contemporary music of his peers he also developed a distinct interest in jazz. Three years attending Houston’s Summer Jazz Workshop helped solidify his foundation and set a clear path as a standout at HSPVA, the renowned performing and visual arts high school whose alumnae include Beyoncé, Jason Moran, Chris Dave and Eric Harland. During that time he won the Ruth and Eli Nadel Scholarship Award at Stanford Jazz Workshop (2012-2013), earned a full scholarship to Skidmore Summer Jazz Institute in Saratoga Springs, NY and was awarded the Moran Scholarship Award from pianist and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, Jason Moran. It was also evident that James was a talented composer. Bolstered by his inquisitive mind and synesthesia, the ability to hear in colors, James’ music is insightful and purposeful with a distinct melodic styling that is forward looking and comforting. He explores the full spectrum of keys from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes to synthesizer. "I enjoy being able to describe life through sound... To me, that's what makes music relevant; speaking on a subject with out words."
Francies’ impressive performance/recording credits include The Roots, Pat Metheny, Eric Harland, Bilal, Kodak Black, Chris Potter, Robert Glasper, Jeff Tain Watts, Jose James, Chris Dave, and many others. Francies was also a part of Chance The Rapper's hit single "No Problem" which went on to win 2 GRAMMY Awards in 2017. In his high school years, Francies was a member of the GRAMMY® Jazz Session Combo, The Thelonious Monk Institute All-Star Jazz Sextet, The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and the Texas Music Educators Association’s (TMEA) All-State Jazz Ensemble. Francies has performed and toured extensively throughout 5 different continents. Francies recently graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music on full-scholarship. James Francies is a Blue Note Recording Artist, endorsed by Yamaha Pianos, Korg Keyboards, and is an IWC Brand Ambassador.
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