Very hot property artistically at the moment pianist and keyboardist James Francies has his own record Purest Form out later this month, his second for Blue Note. Also, in Chris Potter's Circuits trio the US player and synaesthete is on their new record Sunrise Reprise issued once again by the English jazz-indie Edition, the trio completed by the iconic Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland. And that's not all with Pat Metheny Francies is in Side Eye, Metheny's own shape shifting new-generation trio.
Speaking on the phone earlier from New York City James says that he's meeting up with Elliott Skinner later to make some phone recordings and videos. Vocalist Skinner is on 'Rose Water' the second single from Purest Form to stream ahead of the album release itself.
Very much a family affair Purest Form is dedicated to James' late mother Shawana who passed away in January and features poignantly her voice especially a factor on 'Transfiguration'. James' wife Brenda narrates 'Adoration' at the beginning, and who is waving to him as he speaks on the phone, and very evocatively James' father who is in his mid-seventies (and also called James) reminisces about the 4th Ward in Houston which used to be pre-gentrification Freedmen's Town, the name of the excellent 11th track, his warm voice heard over his son's rolling piano lines and on which James Sr discusses movingly his own parents and early life in a very different Houston. His son is at one with an incredible generation of more senior Houston jazz musicians who include Robert Glasper and Jason Moran to achieve wide national and international profile and Purest Form also includes a homage to Houston called '713' which was the first track to stream. James says that he wrote '713' when he was ''eighteen or nineteen years old'' revamping it more recently during quarantine.
Producing this time after co-producing his excellent Blue Note debut Flight with Derrick Hodge James says that '713' now has ''a totally different vibe than it had before'' with the concept underpinning it ''like Earth Wind & Fire.''
As for keyboards influences James cites James Poyser, famed for his work with Erykah Badu, as an inspiration who he says has shown generosity to him. Robert Glasper introduced James to Poyser and they all get on very well.
Sprinkled throughout the record, which also includes some fine string arrangements, a hip-hop vibe with DJ Dahi, who James tells me he will be working with later in the year, is a jaw dropping version of 'My Favorite Things' featuring labelmate alto saxophone star Immanuel Wilkins. Francies adds his own vocals judiciously on the album as well on Purest Form although it is his dazzling pianism that is striking first and foremost.
The irony is not lost on me that this isn't a ''purist's record'' and asked what he means by ''purest'' James talks about ''atoms'' and the vibrations at the heart of us all, like the ''particles'' that we all share as humans. He says he isn't really a singer but vocals are part of his whole musical persona, like a ''whole body musical instrument.''
With talk of 'My Favorite Things' John Coltrane is pertinent and he says that Lush Life was the first album of Trane's that he heard and that was recommended to him by his father. James also heard 'After the Rain' early on but says almost sheepishly: ''I didn't come to 'Giant Steps' until later''. He also refers to how much he digs the Johnny Hartman record with Coltrane. The 'Favorite Things' arrangement itself Francies wrote when he was 15-years-old. It's a startling achievement. He jokes however it's ''stuff that doesn't need to be arranged'' but the players on the record certainly bring their own identity and energy in the moment despite such self-effacement. SG. Sunrise Reprise is released on Friday. Purest Form is out on 21 May. James Francies, top. Photo: Shervin Lainez/Blue Note