"Sisu" is pianist/composer Jennifer DeFrayne’s second album, following her award-winning 2014 debut, "By a Wire." The title refers to a quality that characterizes the Finnish spirit and encompasses perseverance, courage, endurance, determination, grit, fortitude, bravery, spirit, resilience and inner strength. DeFrayne, who is of Finnish descent, explains: “Each song on this album embraces the spirit of sisu in one way or another and each song is meant to reflect the many characteristics of sisu.” An artist who has had far more than her fair of tragedies and set-backs in life is herself a shining example of sisu at work, and has demonstrated how this positive mindset can enable a person to take action against all odds and turn struggles into success.
Like her debut, "Sisu" is a collection of piano-based original compositions with additional instrumentation provided by Jeff Haynes (percussion), Premik Russell Tubbs (EWI and sax), Sara Milonovich (violin and vocals), Jill Haley (English horn and oboe), Michael Manring (bass guitar and EBow), Jeff Pearce (guitar), and Jeff Oster (flugel horn). It was produced by DeFrayne and Corin Nelsen, and Nelsen also did the recording, mixing, and mastering.
"Sisu" begins with “Fire Island,” the translation of DeFrayne’s Finnish maiden name (Palosaari). Piano, EWI (electronic wind instrument), percussion, and bass guitar combine to paint a picture that is spirited yet peaceful and full of grace. “Be Who You Are” is always great advice, and in this piece, that advice is given with gentle compassion via piano, percussion, violin, and English horn. The title track features piano, violin, EWI, and bass guitar. This beautiful piece has a poignant, touching quality with an underlying strength that rises to the surface from time-to-time, moving forward and reinforcing the feeling of determination. “Beyond” is another favorite. A trio for piano, ambient guitar, and flugel horn, the message is that “when you think you can’t… use your grit to move past, and beyond…” As the piece begins, the tone is tentative and haunting, gradually building the strength and energy needed to break through the barrier. I really like the passionate, flowing quality of “Palo Santo,” a piece for piano, EWI, wordless vocals, and percussion. “Stepping Stones” reflects on the many steps it takes for every accomplishment. Strength and determination flow throughout the piece as it gradually builds to emotional peaks, recedes a bit, gathers energy, and forges on. “Renew,” a lovely duet for piano and English horn, is both soothing and upbeat as it suggests that we help ourselves and others while embracing life’s beautiful changes. The liner notes say: “If you strive to persevere, and do, that is Sisu!” and the closing track, “Perseverance,” lovingly illustrates that point with piano, percussion, violin, English horn and oboe.
"Sisu" is a very impressive second album, and I think it exceeds the promise of "By a Wire." Highly recommended!
Review from Journeyscapes Radio
Sisu (pronounced see-soo) is the sophomore release from Jennifer DeFrayne and follow-up to her critically-acclaimed debut album, By a Wire. A self-taught pianist and composer of Finnish decent, Sisu is a Finnish word describing “a mindset that enables an individual to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform struggles into success.” Such a description couldn’t be more fitting for this album, one that has been conceptualized by an artist who experienced a series of personal tragedies, while her truest companion, the piano, guided her along through her pain and suffering. Comprised of twelve compositions written by Jennifer and produced with Corin Nelson, the album additionally features a handful of talented guest musicians throughout. Among them include Jeff Haynes on percussion, Premik Russell Tubbs on electronic woodwind instrument and saxophone, Michael Manring on bass guitar and EBow, Jill Haley on oboe and English horn, Sarah Milonovich on violin and vocals, Jeff Pearce on ambient guitar, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn.
The album begins with “Fire Island”, a piece named for the English translation of Jennifer’s Finnish maiden name. Her beautiful piano leads with a somewhat poignant melody, which is complimented by subtle percussion and bass guitar. Capturing the essence of the far north, the piece brings to mind that of a lone woman standing by the shore beneath an overcast sky, in which the accompanying electronic woodwind instrument serves as a gentle breeze throughout. “Be Who You Are” follows next, a song about following one’s own passion. Its piano melody moves fluidly through the upper and lower registers, with sparkling warmth akin to sunlight softly pouring through a window, while the composition’s accompanying instruments of English horn, violin and gentle percussion lend gentle support. The title track, “Sisu”, ensues with the most incredibly beautiful melody of all, surely destining it as one of my favorite piano compositions of the year. The album’s lengthiest piece clocking in at over seven minutes, I had to give it repeated listens in order to take in all the beauty and emotive expression it has to offer. The composition’s main melodic hook cascades in a gentle rise and fall, stirring up the emotions, then tapers back and repeats again. Graced with a solemn classical touch, its poignant expression is further enhanced by accompanying violin, while the electronic woodwind adds an extra layer of dreaminess. “Beyond” follows next with alternating delicate and starker piano notes, as ambient guitar mimics warm, enveloping synthesizers, while flugelhorn weaves softly suspending notes among the soundscape. The sixth track, “Palo Santo”, is another particular favorite, named for a sacred tree in South America that means “holy wood”. Electronic woodwind introduces the piece in a manner that deftly mimics an indigenous flute, effectively painting an image of someone standing atop a mountain while overlooking the landscape. Piano gently follows, waltzing back and forth while reverberating throughout the space, as the woodwind lends an exotic touch that’s further enhanced by breezy wordless vocal intonations. Concluding the album is the aptly-named, “Perseverance”, an elegant piece that features a gentle arrangement of piano, oboe, English horn, violin, wordless vocals and percussion. Conveying a sense of joyful solitude, the piece feels like an ode to a new day, perhaps serving as a gentle reminder that the sun will still rise tomorrow.
In her desire to bring healing and comfort to others, Jennifer also pursued studies in reiki and massage therapy. She is a glowing testament of someone who has been able to transform her own personal suffering and loss into incredible art expressed through her talents. Stating that “each song on the album embraces the spirit of sisu in one way or another, and each song is meant to reflect the many characteristics of sisu”, her intention is fully realized in the stirring emotional depth of these stunningly beautiful compositions!