(15 November 2008) Indie artist Frances Mai-Ling explores classical piano in a new light in Best Kept Secrets (Frances Mai-Ling (USA) bks-dirm010, 2003). She is a pioneer in alt-classical music, having appeared on the scene in 2001. She infuses an emotive and melodic style to her creations, taking piano and organ instruments to different heights. She has scored music for theatre and film, along with a various amount of side projects to her credit. Besides being a published composer, she is also a published writer and visual artist.
Frances got her start in show business by participating in her parent's magic show, but she decided on music rather than magic. She is a trained classical pianist although she had only two years of piano lessons. She does perform all original pieces and is the co-founder of EastWestNow Records. This label is the first and collective that promotes artists of Asian ethnicity, and focuses on artists who are half-Asian.
This eleven track album is nearly all instrumental with the exception of "Starslider-Sonnet #137." In "Starslider" her vocals seem abrupt and often off-key. There is an eerieness to this particular track that does seem to hold some musical intrigue for the listener, but Frances should eliminate the vocals. The album begins with "Evil Theme." This evocative piece has a flowing melody and a melancholy flavor. She segues into a playful organ tune called "Caliban's Polka." Another song, "Canaval," has a similar circus inspiration that is playful and evokes images of harlequins.
A standout track is "Love For 2 Flutes and Cello" which was composed for Taming of the Shrew. The melodic flute and cello combination is a lovely, flowing track that expresses a moving interplay between the two instruments. A defined sound appears in "Homage." It is a touching and poignant piece, where she employs a slow and broad tempo. This track was composed for The Miser. "Dance of the Imps" sounds like it was partially played on a toy piano. This song did not add much to this collection, and was a bit disturbing.
"Fiddler Forbear" is an exciting guitar laiden song that certainly plucks at the senses. There is an energy and intrigue shown here that highlights her innovative expressiveness fully. She continues to impress with "Anticipation" that uses delightful trills and flowing melodic interludes to enrapture the listener. The evocative piano piece is aptly named, as the listener looks forward to the continuation of this lovely, creative melody. "Miser Dance" is a lively, upbeat song that incorporates guitar strumming, appropriate to the imagery. She closes this album with the dynamic "In the Beat of the Firey Drum."
This collection of mostly instrumental works certainly have an adventurous and innovative edge. Best Kept Secret does highlight Frances Mai-Ling's creativity and appreciation of the literary classics with her interpretive style. She has original, imaginative songs that are thoroughly enjoyable, although there are a few wrong turns on several tracks along the way. In general, she should stick to the instrumentals and avoid the vocals. There are some songs here that are emotive and tranquil and may appeal to those listeners who are more adventurous.--Audrey Elliot in New York