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Album Review: Sisu
Jennifer DeFrayne
Cover image of the album Sisu by Jennifer DeFrayne
Jennifer DeFrayne
2017 / Palo Isle Music
59 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
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. It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Highly recommended!
February 27, 2017
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