Advertisement
Advertisement

Sophie Tassignon: Mysteries Unfold

In brief:
"By any reasonable standard, the new solo album from Berlin-based Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon is an extraordinary achievement, but not by the standards of jazz as we know it"

The day can’t be too far off when the latest recording of Mahler’s symphonies will be sent to a jazz magazine or jazz radio programme and be reviewed without the tongue going anywhere close to the cheek. It’s not a question of the emperor’s new clothes but whether or not the emperor, or in this case the empress, has turned up dazzlingly clothed at the wrong event or been sent there in error.

By any reasonable standard, the new solo album from Berlin-based Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon is an extraordinary achievement, but not by the standards of jazz as we know it. With layered a capella vocals (all hers) and ancillary electro-acoustics she delivers from some haunting location a group of songs varying in tone from Dolly Parton’s Jolene to Vivaldi’s Cum Dederit and the folk-rock chart Witches, made famous by Canadian group The Cowboy Junkies.

Advertisement

It’s as though the depth of emotion, and indeed the narrative, of the known songs have come to be held in contempt by our familiarity, such as it is. For instance, we need to be reminded that Jolene, lost in the mawkish atmosphere of country & western music, is a character being solemnly entreated to stop making plays for the narrator-singer’s lover. The way Tassignon sees it, this is a matter of almost unbearable extremity. Each of the performances is a rescue act, or at least a transposition to a place of redefining, often elevated by over-arching polyphony and ethereal soundscapes.

Tassignon does have jazz antecedents – she’s the leader of the group Khyal, which weds Arabic poetry to jazz, and is prominent on the free impro scene – but here she has her feet planted on different soil. Then again, if she sees a connection it’s probably up to us to think or listen twice. Thematically, the set includes four original songs and enjoins the plight of women through history in terms of their closed-down voices. The opener, about a female warrior, is much more vivid and capacious than its origins in a 1978 Russian film by Nikita Mikhalkov.

Mysteries Unfold is an exploration of raw emotion in sound. As an unpredicated starter, that could be a definition of jazz. But Mysteries Unfold is not jazz. Its star rating here thus reflects a dissimilar set of values.

Discography
Gubi Okayannie; Jolene; Don’t Be So Shy With Me; Descending Tide; Witches; La Nuit; Cum Dederit; Mysteries Unfold (37.00)
Tassignon (v, elec). Berlin, 2015-18.
RareNoise RNR119

Latest audio reviews

Advertisement

More from this author

Advertisement

Jazz Journal articles by month

Advertisement

Norma Winstone & John Taylor: In Concert

John Taylor and Norma Winstone were a potent musical combination on the British jazz scene for a number of years and this live situation,...
Advertisement

Still Clinging To The Wreckage 12/21

"I'd like to tell a funny story about Artie Shaw," said Al Cohn. "But there aren't any." Maybe not, but there was much wisdom to be...
Advertisement

Charlie Parker at 100: Chasin’ the Bird’s tone

I was eight years old when I first began to play the saxophone and since that time, I always remember my grandfather mentioning somebody...
Advertisement

Music – A Subversive History

Ted Gioia is a musical thinker, as well as a jazz critic and historian – his concept of the aesthetics of imperfection has inspired...
Advertisement

Count Basie: Live

The “Atomic” Basie band made frequent tours of the UK, Europe and Scandinavia in the 1960s and this one captures it at the Palais...
Advertisement

JJ 05/61: Thelonious Monk – At The Blackhawk

These tracks were recorded just a year ago at that haven of jazz in San Francis­co, the Blackhawk. They feature the cur­rent Monk quartet...