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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
Other reviews from The Sounding Board by R J Lannan:
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  Songs for Smiler McGee by Jon Dahlander, reviewed by RJ Lannan on 10/18/2017
  All About Love: Music from the Heart by Ban Brothers, reviewed by RJ Lannan on 10/18/2017
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Sísu
By Jennifer DeFrayne
Label: Palo Isle Music
Released 3/3/2017
Sísu tracks
1. Fire Island
2. Be Who You Are
3. Sísu
4. Beyond
5. Gathering
6. Palo Santo
7. Roots
8. Stepping Stones
9. Equanimity
10. Internal Light
11. Renew
12. Perseverance
The Right Stuff
There are tragedies in the human drama that produce voids in the spirit. That sadness and sorrow etches the soul. Fortunately, there are times when the harsh landscapes of life influence a person to create their own world of beauty. Such is the case for pianist Jennifer DeFrayne. Let me say up front that if ever there was a time when music healed a broken heart and body, this is the case.

Loss of family, damage to personal health, and an inescapable span of time have all been adversities in this gentle artist's life. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but when it gets tougher than that, you need to use "sisu". Thank the Finns. Sisu is the concept of perseverance beyond the norm. Sometimes you have to reach deep down inside to find it, but according to Jennifer's music it is there for all to employ.

The opening song is called Fire Island. A cold wind blows in the background as the music comes upon you like a mist. Jennifer's piano lead is mystical as if the secrets are about to be revealed. Then you discover the mist is not so cold after all. Like winter falling into spring, the music of Fire Island warms you deep down to the bone.

Be Who You Are is an encouraging piece, an invitation to stand your ground as a human. The piano in this has its own warmth and its own blissful meter. It suggests that is does not matter what the outer shell looks like, it is the mindfulness of what is inside that defines who you are. Compassion, warmth, intelligence, and humor takes a back seat to tall, short, pretty or not.

The title tune Sisu is a bit more somber than the rest of the tunes on this album, and the seriousness is a necessity. DeFrayne's piano is joined by Premik Russell's electronic wind instrument, Michael Manring's bass, and Sara Milonovich's violin. It is a beautiful ensemble effort. The tune reminds me of Robert Browning's quote, "Ah, but a man's (woman's) reach should exceed his (her) grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

No matter many how many times I listen to this poignant, contemporary album I always seem to return to Palo Santo. It is a haunting piece that echoes with the sound of electronic flute (EWI) floating about like a phantasm, but the piano keeps us on the plane of reality. It was my favorite on the recording. Like the music, the "holy stick" or incense has a purifying effect on the spirit.

A major achievement in your life does not occur every day, but we can celebrate the little things that do. Stepping Stones is that little celebration, that acknowledgement that a goal was reached, a friend was made, or better still, heart won over. It is those baby steps that count. The tempo of Jennifer's dynamic tune provides a rhythm to those steps.

Jill Haley's English horn announces the beginning of the song Renew. The gentle fanfare proceeds the piano tune that is a theme song for a new beginning. It is hard for many to believe that sometimes change is a good thing. I myself was resistant to change in my younger years, but I have learned to look for the little bit of silver lining in every stormy cloud. If you learn this early in your life, things will get better.

The last piece, Perseverance is a heartening refrain of the main focus of sisu. The never give up, never say die ideal will get you much farther that the why me and the what ifs?. Just ask any musician, any artist, or any writer who has been plugging way at their craft. We, they, I encounter more negative nods and closed doors than you can imagine. The trick is to not let the nay sayers and put downs stop you, but instead challenge you to keep going. That is the essence of sisu. Jennifer’s final heartfelt track is that encouragement embodied in musical notes and she is playing your tune.

Jennifer DeFrayne's twelve track contemporary piano album is more than just soothing music. The compositions offers to take your hand and guide you to a state where brave hearts are welcome. They inspire you to keep going, no matter the trials put in front of you. And, most importantly, to draw upon your own version of sisu.
Rating: Very Good   Very Good
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 5/26/2017
 
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