Mysteries Unfold

Sophie Tassignon

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Mysteries Unfold Review

by Thom Jurek

Sophie Tassignon is a Belgian-born, Berlin-based vocalist, composer, and improviser whose place in the European avant-garde is well established. She leads her own group Zoshia, and is co-founder of several musical projects including Charlotte & Mr. Stone (with Simon Vincent), and Azolia (co-led by Susanne Folk). Mysteries Unfold is Tassignon's RareNoise debut; it marks the label's first album by a female artist. It is, for the most part, an outing for solo voice. While Tassignon is also credited with electronics, they are used quite sparingly, often as devices for layering and stacking her vocals. Consisting of four original compositions and four covers, Mysteries Unfold is not merely a collection of experimental vocal and production techniques, but a fully realized creative statement that showcases Tassignon's rather astonishing creativity and accessibility.

Opener "Guibi Okayannie" by Russian composer Kim Yuliy Chesanovich commences with a wordless, layered harmonic drone. The singer stacks her vocals and emerges from the center with a Russian lyric (she speaks five languages and is currently learning Arabic) about a lover from the perspective of a female warrior riding over the Russian steppes. Tassignon expands her tonal ranges in a textured glossolalia that ratchets the intensity until it abruptly ends. Dolly Parton's "Jolene," is startling, as bird calls frame a skeletal contralto that delivers the passionate lyric with a slightly transposed melody. It's almost like a hymn though her soprano moan in the refrain is steeped in amorous emotion and drama. The original "Don't Be So Shy with Me," jumps time to capture the essence -- in modern cadence -- of popular cabaret vocalizing during the late 1920s and early '30s. Its fleet pace, sly lyrics, and five-part staggered harmony recall the great Comedian Harmonists, the most popular German vocal group of the era. "Descending Tide," another original, is framed by the sound of wind. The polyphonic lyric is layered in complex cadences, in an experimental -- yet commanding -- approach to Baroque singing. "Witches" is the most unlikely cover of a Cowboy Junkies' tune ever. Tassignon begins in her lower register before moving to the upper ranges of her alto and then the margin with her soprano. The lyric emerges from the middle with a lone backing voice, that is multiplied with each phrase. Still, Tassignon faithfully retains the song's vulnerability and emotion. Her "La Nuit," with its restrained, skittering, whispered, hiccuping backdrop layers a voice employing each strategy as she delivers her lyrics (in French) with eerie, Gothic overtones. It's haunted and beautiful. Tassignon treats us to an innovative reading of Antonio Vivaldi's "Cum Dederit" that mirrors the power and sacred passion in its polyphonic architecture. The title track original that closes the set uses the idea of medieval polyphony (albeit electronically altered) to create the backdrop for an elegant melody and seductive lyric that evoke Brecht and Weill. With its rigorous D.I.Y. approach to composition, production, and organic experimentation, Mysteries Unfold is a major work that showcases Tassignon as a master of control, expression, and vision.

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