The haunting strains of a distant melody, the resplendent majesty of an angelic choir; the echoing cries of circling birds, the thundering clomp of charging hoofbeats; the menace of an ominous growl, the soul-stirring chime of a tolling bell, the urgency of a percussive rhythm: Sophie Tassignon conjures all of these with only that most beautiful, boundless and mysterious of instruments, the human voice. On her first solo album, Mysteries Unfold, the Belgian-born, Berlin-based vocalist transcends time and language to explore and evoke a stunning panoply of human emotion.
Due out March 27, 2020 via RareNoise Records, Mysteries Unfold weaves a dazzling sonic tapestry from the varicolored threads of Tassignon’s versatile and daring voice. Able to grip the listener’s heart with just her emotional expression of a lyric, Tassignon crafts a staggering variety of effects by layering her voice into polyphonic architectures or lush choruses, powerful ensembles or enigmatic atmospheres. Drawing influence from the ancient to the boundary-stretching, she unearths a unifying strain of spiritual longing that underlies the human experience.
Fluent in five languages (and studying a sixth, Arabic) and inspired by a wide range of musical experimentalists, Tassignon brings the whole of her estimable experience to bear on Mysteries Unfold. Over the past 20 years her voice has been heard in a variety of contexts, from avant-garde jazz and free improvisation to theatrical performance and electroacoustic music. She’s released eight albums with projects including Charlotte & Mr. Stone (with Simon Vincent), Azolia (co-led by Susanne Folk) and her group Zoshia, as well as collaborations with her husband, saxophonist Peter Van Huffel. She also leads the ensemble Khyal, which blends jazz and Arabic poetry, and has enjoyed a decade-long collaboration with theater director Elzbieta Bednarska.
Mysteries Unfold presents something entirely new, stark in its elements but limitless in its imaginative possibilities. “I’ve never worked alone before,” Tassignon explains. “It was very challenging, musically and emotionally, but it offers so many possibilities. I hope that people will feel like this album takes them to another place, somewhere outside of this reality, where time doesn’t exist.”
That defiance of time shines through Tassignon’s often surprising choice of material for the project. Along with four striking original compositions, the vocalist performs pieces by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, country songwriter Dolly Parton, Russian bard Yuliy Chersanovich Kim, and folk-rock band Cowboy Junkies. Harmonies that harken back to Gregorian chants coexist with bold, modern electroacoustic experimentation, primal vocalizations with luxurious melodies, yet all sound of a piece through the vessel of Tassignon’s virtuoso vocals.
Tassignon also found unifying echoes in the songs’ thematic material. Mysteries Unfold is in many ways a celebration of women’s stories and the fact that so many of them have been suppressed and silenced throughout the centuries. As Tassignon explains, “I think I was drawn to the title Mysteries Unfold because the Woman has been forced to hide so many feelings throughout her existence, yet they are so rich and compelling, and they become uncovered through these songs.”
The title track itself, which closes the album, is a Tassignon original whose tale of “cross[ing] the line too many times” could describe the end of a romance or bemoan the defiance necessary time and again in the struggle for parity. The strength and ferocity necessary to keep fighting those battles is vividly expressed in the opening piece, Kim’s “Guby Okayannie,” a love song that ends by evoking a female warrior’s ride over the Russian steppes, replete with saber-rattling battle cry. Tassignon discovered the song in its far more intimate version from the 1978 Nikita Mikhalkov film Five Evenings.
Bird calls and the hushed roar of water set the scene for “Jolene,” Dolly Parton’s classic plea from a woman scorned to her auburn-haired rival. Beginning with the heart-wrenching vulnerability of a lone voice against this isolated landscape, the piece gradually builds into a vibrant chorus suggesting the liberation of inner thoughts given open expression. “I wanted it to be as heavenly as possible,” Tassignon says. “It’s painful and it’s beautiful at the same time to be able to say that I’m jealous, that I have pain. I like the contrast of that.”
The pulsing, percussive momentum of the singer’s “Don’t Be So Shy With Me” captures the impulsive urge of a forbidden passion, while the haunting reverberations and whispered secrets of “Descending Tide” embody the essential unknown of another person’s most hidden self. The Cowboy Junkies’ “Witches,” from the Canadian band’s 1990 album The Caution Horses, is a call to sisterhood, that ever-threatening bond that the male of the species typically translates into dark sorcery.
Tassignon’s “La Nuit,” with its skittering provocations and piledriving throbs, pictures the empowerment of self-discovery, a poignant ode to psychoanalysis. Vivaldi’s “Cum Dederit,” setting the text of an Old Testament Psalm, is a vivid evocation of the simultaneous interior and exterior quest of prayer, searching for the holy in the vast heavens by way of the profound mysteries of the deeply personal.
In a sense that duality and sense of longing is the core emotion of Mysteries Unfold, the timeless theme that weaves together past and present, translates foreign tongues, and connects strangers one to another. Whether the longing for God or a lover, resolution of a universal question or the secrets of one’s self, this yearning resonates throughout these songs and is breathed into gorgeous, provocative and moving life through Tassignon’s exploratory and dauntless voice.
“I feel that artists exist to feel the emotions of the world,” Tassignon concludes, “and to allow those emotions to pass through them in order to express them in a different form. My goal is simply to touch other human beings and transport them to a moment out of time, just as in a moment of infatuation where nothing else exists besides the present moment and beauty.”
Mysteries Unfold on Bancamp: click here
“Unity is also guaranteed by the treatment that Sophie applies to everything, putting together an album that is the most tantalizing that we have encountered in recent times.” Alberto Bazzurro, Musica Jazz, Decembre 2020 issue
“While following a clear line of research, this solo album by Belgian (singer) Sophie Tassignon stands out for its melodic richness and lyrical intensity, in a majestically unadorned dimension which arises in a timeless classicism, where different musical references are intertwined in an originally bewitching path.”
Angelo Leonardi, All About Jazz Italia
“By any reasonable standard, the new solo album from Berlin-based Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon is an extraordinary achievement…”
Nigel Barrett, Jazzjournal
“The listener soon forgets the staggering technicalities that must have been involved in making this thoroughly engaging album, and is taken on a trip into the multi-faceted emotions of human existence, and humanity’s ever-questing spirit.”
Roger Trenwith, The Progressive Aspect
“Eine Huldingung and die persönliche Göttin der Menschen: die Stimme” Stefan Hentz, Jazz Thing 134
“Veering into the experimental, drenched in clarity and a study of the shimmer between consonance and dissonance, this CD is as fresh as a newborn idea.” Debbie Burke
“Mit „Mysteries Unfold“ dürfte sie nun endgültig in den Fokus internationaler Jazz-Aficionados geraten, denen die grandiose Vokalartistin mit faszinierend variabler Stimme raffiniert geschichtete Soundscapes kredenzt, deren überwältigende Klangpracht ebenso poetisch tönt wie ihr Name.” Sven Thielmann, Fono Forum
“Album di raffinata ed eterea bellezza” Fortunato Mannino, Sound36.com
“… disque mystérieux et envoûtant.” Jean-Claude Vantroyen, Le Soir “M.A.D”
“Encore une excellente découverte musicale… La voix ensorcelante de Sophie Tassignon va illuminer notre prochaine émission (Blender Session 46)… Sa voix se révèle d’une plasticité stupéfiante pour un résultat original au pouvoir d’enchantement quasi constant. Lyrique et mystique par moment, flirtant avec le jazz à d’autres instants, cet album est une jolie surprise portant la marque du label RareNoise.” Olivier Lehoux, Solénopole
“The arches of sound that Sophie’s voice manages to create, combining the timbric extremes of her vocal extension and multiplied with the help of electronics, make the emotion evoked by the lyrics of the compositions palpable, without altering the original harmonic structure of the songs.” Andrea Baroni, Traccedijazz
“…with her own vocal variability and an impressive variety of timbres, she creates a fascinating work of vocal art…” Melodiva, Frankfurt, melodiva.de
“Die Künstlerin überzeugt durch ihre wandlungsfähige Stimme.” Jürgen Meurer, BetreutesBroggen.de
“Avec un chant très polyvalent où s’impose dès la première note une dextérité remarquable, Sophie Tassignon propose un album en solo où les voix de sa voix s’entremêlent jusqu’à créer un univers personnel labyrinthique.“ Yves Dorison, Culturejazz.fr
“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. Mysteries Unfold is a major work that showcases Tassignon as a master of control, expression, and vision.” Thom Jurek, All my music
“I’ve never heard a version of Parton’s ‘Jolene’ with such a depth and beauty!” Geert Ryssen, fullcirclemisicblog.be
“La reprise du Jolene de Dolly Parton est ainsi une vraie surprise. Mais si l’on reconnaît aisément le célèbre refrain, le chant qui ne repose que sur des vocalises sans aucun instrument s’envole vite ailleurs avec un tel niveau d’élégance et de naturel qu’on en est une nouvelle fois bluffé.” Pierre Dulieu, Dragnojazz.com
Sophie Tassignon is a tightrope walker and a master illusionist who takes the human voice to levels not yet explored – likely not even imagined. Pivoting and wheeling on a scant thread, the single voice seems to suddenly multiply, transforming into a choir. In a moment the course may suddenly reverse, shattering the illusion and leaving a faint echo of a dream-like existence. Tassignon creates a sometimes haunting yet mysteriously comforting presence. Captivating with grace and guts, she achieves an extraordinary beauty that remains a part of you, penetrating the heart and soul, and inspiring the mind. Her debut-album “Mysteries Unfold” was released on April 24th, 2020 on RareNoise Records on CD and vinyl.
© photos: Katrin Andrzejewski, Peter Van Huffel, Dóra Baktay