Making her first appearance in Canberra as part of a five-city tour to launch her latest album also entitled Beautiful World, Frances Madden, performing in a sophisticated modernistic setting provided by the Street Theatre, turned out to be a real surprise packet.
A consummate musician, gifted composer and arranger, with a sweet voice and relaxed, engaging presence that exudes the joy of singing, Madden and her band performed an engaging program, of songs featured on her new album, new songs not yet recorded sprinkled with exciting arrangements of familiar standards.
The standards included an upbeat arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s Dancing in the Street to open the show; a lush arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s Give Me The Simple Life, which provided Madden with the opportunity to show off her formidable jazz piano technique; a joyous romp through Gershwin’s S’Wonderful; and a gorgeously performed arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s ubiquitous Hallelujah.
However it was Madden’s virtuosity as a composer and song stylist that were the most impressive aspects of this concert. Surrounding herself with musicians of the ilk of guitarist Carl Dewhurst, trumpeter Ray Cassar, Brett Hirst on double bass and Tim Geldens on drums, with Borbala Bodonyi and Jo Fabro providing exquisite backing vocals, Madden, seated at piano and keyboards, followed the rousing opening with a gentle new song, not yet recorded, entitled Bless the Day.
Unfortunately most of the lyrics for this song were lost in the poor sound mix which took some time to find the correct level. This problem also affected the performance of Madden’s charming ballad, You’re doing so well, and even the title song, an infectious, toe-tapping cover by Madden of the Adam Crossley song Beautiful World.
By the time we got to her rather wonderful arrangement of the Lerner and Lowe song, On the Street Where You Live, all had found their correct sound levels, allowing the audience to relax and savour Madden’s captivating vocal stylings.
In addition to her jazz credentials, Madden is also a brilliant classical pianist, often references classical compositions in her introductions for her own compositions. A few bars of Debussy’s Clair de Lune evaporates into a seductive rocking blues rhythm for Change in Your Eyes, for which Carl Dewhurst contributed exquisite guitar interpolations. A long Liberace-ish flourish precedes the tango rhythm for the catchy, The Tango Never Lies which Ray Cassar embellished with a stylish trumpet solo.
Not the least of Maddens talents is her ability to charm her audience with her introductions to each item. To the point and thankfully devoid of unnecessary waffle, whether confiding a charming family revelations about ‘the chosen one’ to introduce her gentle lullaby Made for You, or a cheeky red-herring about a temperamental orchid to explain the motivation for You’re Doing so Well, her gentle, confidently delivered introductions gave just enough information to enhance the enjoyment of each song.
Following a standing ovation at the end of her performance, which she rewarded with two encores, Madden declared that she would be back. She also mentioned that she was about to go overseas to explore further performance possibilities. She certainly has everything she needs to succeed.
But don’t wait for the world to discover her. If she comes your way, be among the first to discover this prodigiously talented entertainer for yourself.
Frances Madden: Beautiful World
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 12 March 2022
Frances continues her Beautiful World tour in Wollongong (19 March) and Sydney (25 March). For more information, visit: www.francesmadden.com for details.
Image: Frances Madden and her Band – photo by Creswick Collective
Review: Bill Stephens OAM