Bandleader/Composer Jonah Francese Amplifies Unheard Voices on Reclamation

the New Album from his Thinkin’ Big Big Band

Digital Out October 3, 2019
Worldwide Release: December 9

Thinkin’ Big:

Kristen Dye (flute), Clay Lyons (alto sax), Mark Zaleski (alto & soprano sax), Jonathan Bean & Paul Melhus (tenor sax), Austin Yancey (baritone sax), Kai Sandoval, Danny Fratina, Jenn Zevos, Jesse Francese & Taylor Kelly (trumpet), Quinn Carson, Eric Stilwell, Myrish Spell & Rob Krahn (trombone), Caio Afiune & Marc Malsegna (guitar), David Ling (piano/keys), Neil Patton (bass) & Marshawn Fondren (drums)

Plus: Brett White – (piano; all interludes), Tracy Robertson (vocals; tracks 6 & 18), Mark Joseph (vocals; track 18), Jania Foxworth (vocals; track 18), Lyric Rachae’ Stephen (vocals; track 18) 

On December 9, Berklee College of Music alum Jonah Francese released Reclamation, the sophomore album from his 20-piece (plus special guests!), Chicago-based big band, Thinkin’ Big. Comprised of original compositions – each penned and arranged by Francese – and reimagined jazz gems, Reclamation reflects upon perception – how the world’s population perceives both itself and its surroundings. As Francese explains, “voices remain unheard in our political environment, and the stories these voices can tell are important to the construction of the multicultural intersectionality of which most in power choose to ignore.”  Both the musical interludes and full-length compositions heard on this 19-track collection delivers these too often forgotten narratives through songs like “Rich Man’s Empty Pocket” and “Total Praise.”  Not only does the album take on cultural perspectives through music, but it also makes environmental commentaries, as can be heard on “Forgotten Forests” and “To Ash.” 

Most of the compositions on Reclamation were written soon after Donald Trump got elected as president – throughout the album, Francese reflects on his Mexican heritage from his dad’s side and uses his white privilege to create this platform to advocate for issues he can relate to through his identity, but also those he only has power to illuminate through the voices of others.  It brings light to every marginalized community and questions how these voices can be brought to the forefront of society. The interludes that are thoughtfully placed between songs are sure to evoke a particular sense of relatability to many of the album’s audience – these short recordings feature interviews with women of color, LGBTQ women of color, LGBTQ people of color etc., each of which were conducted by Francese. These interviews don’t just focus on the struggles of these minority groups but their successes, their strength, their perseverance. It is here that this music can truly resonate with so many of its listeners, worldwide.  

A stand out track from the album is “Rich Man’s Empty Pocket”. “The use of money and power to create systemic racism and classism only goes so far – money will never unify the rich”, Francese exclaims. Financial greed will always exist, but communities who remain together as resilient united groups refuse to allow the power of the rich to defeat them – “we continue to stand together and so ultimately our pockets are more full than theirs will ever be.” “Sunburnt Daydreams” moves to the topic of property, possession of property and essentially the displacement of natives and the upheaval of their homes. Specifically, Francese draws attention to the communities across Texas and the Southwest who have been forced to relocate. Daydreams are often fantasies and so, although there is hope for change, the treatment of these communities has remained the same for too long, and therefore is sunburnt and blackened. Originally penned by Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise” is a powerful tune that serves as an outlet for Francese, through which he contemplates the effect religion has had on various demographics. Minority groups have often reimagined colonial pursuits – one of which being Christianity.  African-American churches have questioned the initial colonial control linked to Christianity. Ultimately, these churches have brought their communities together through a far more meaningful perspective – one of compassion and unity, as opposed to control and hierarchy.

With influences crossing various genres outside of the jazz spectrum, Thinkin’ Big continues to explore iterations of what big band music can be.  Bandleader and composer, Jonah Francese, is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago where he is devoting much of his study to race and gender through the field of ethnomusicology. 

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