The flute is perhaps the only woodwind that beats the soprano sax for girlyness, but Evan Francis has a remarkable capacity for making it seem masculine. Perhaps that's because he plays the flute just as well as he plays the tenor sax. Which is to say, he manhandles it. Aside from being a hefty instrumentalist, he's a terrific composer. Francis wrote seven out of ten tracks on Spaceheater's Blast First, the new self-titled album by his sextet. Recorded last year in San Francisco, it's a combination of shifty horn lines, Afro-Latin drums, and electronic studio effects almost entirely denuded of vocals. People with flute allergies will ultimately learn to appreciate — even love — the instrument, especially after hearing the weird way that Francis interacts with saxophonist Marcus Stephens and trombonist Danny Grewen. It's almost like hearing three people read the same paragraph simultaneously, but with totally different vocal intonation.
Spaceheater spawned from the Jazz Mafia cabal, and originated as a duo with Francis on woodwinds and producer Bill M. mixing beats. The expanded version is distributed by Daly City Records, home of Mochipet and other DJ-centric acts. Normally a jazz combo would seem out of place in such environs, but Spaceheater isn't really a jazz combo — not in the traditional sense, at least. Rather, Francis likes to experiment. He's the composer's equivalent to a restless teenager, always shifting grooves or mixing and matching, setting a busy drum pattern against an equally busy — but unrelated — horn part.
On some songs ("Persistent" and "Interlude"), he adds electronic sounds to make the music sound live and synthetic at the same time. The horns seldom fall in lockstep with the rhythm, but that's what makes it interesting. There's no question Francis is on to something new. (Ropeadope)
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