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Poetic, ambitious cross-genre vocal project

by Wif Stenger

Josefiina Vannesluoma, the fourth member of the vocal group Signe released an excellent solo album, giving flight to poems by Edith Wharton.

Since its debut album in 2019, the vocal quartet Signe has earned award nominations and rapturous reactions. However, the group has remained a too-well-kept secret, maybe because its music is uncategorisable, entwining jazz, classical, folk, spoken word and ancient texts.

Now that all the members have released top-notch solo albums, it’s clear how much talent is packed into the group. There’s been a flurry of albums within the past year, with Josefiina Vannesluoma becoming the last Signe member to release her debut. 

Vannesluoma wrote the biggest share of tunes on the group’s latest album, Syntax. It came out in June, just after Selma Savolainen’s dark Horror Vacui and before bassist-vocalist Kaisa Mäensivu’s Taking Shape with her group Kaisa’s Machine. Riikka Keränen was first out of the box with her A Vision of a Garden in early 2022.

The other three set the bar high, but Vannesluoma easily clears it, both as a vocalist and composer. For the lyrics, she reached back in time – in Signe’s highbrow, literary tradition – to a set of poems written by Edith Wharton in 1909. At that point, the American novelist experienced a “sensuous awakening…sparked in her forties by a charismatic yet elusive socialite,” according to the liner notes. 

That sense of smouldering, mature passion underlies these eight songs. On the sultry single ‘Because Our Kiss,’ Vannesluoma shows her startling range, soaring as effortlessly as, say, Joni Mitchell in her prime, with support from Sampo Kasurinen’s alto flute. 

Kasurinen, who also adds tasteful clarinet and saxophone, is part of an agile jazz quartet that shifts from discretion to passion as the songs demand, set against warm, acoustic-sounding production. 

Pianist Mikael Myrskog, who also plays with Kaisa’s Machine and Vannesluoma’s labelmates Freezer, is just right throughout. So is the discreet rhythm section of drummer Ville Luukkonen and American bassist Nathan Francis

Kasurinen’s clarinet plays a key role on one of the most fascinating tracks: ‘Yet for One Rounded Moment.’ This aching arrangement of a Bulgarian folk song has a chamber-music feel. Vannesluoma sings microtonal ornamentation, underpinned by arco bass from Francis, Ethiopian-edged piano from Myrskog and a subtle surge of backing vocals. 

Vannesluoma’s complex vocal lines, whether in native-sounding English or wordless scat, are never straightforward, yet always fluid. She gets closest to traditional Ella Fitzgerald-style scat on the longest, jazziest tune of the set, ‘All is Sweet,’ with lyrics delving into Greek mythology and a fine bass solo. There’s another extended, perhaps overlong, free-flowing scat on ‘Shall I Not Know?,’ followed by impressive, searching solos from Kasurinen and Myrskog. 

On ‘The Moment Came,’ she switches from intimate close-up singing to distant wordless vocalisation, then drops to a coy, nearly spoken-word segment toward the end in dialogue with a sensitive sax solo. 

As this ambitious project was recorded more than two years ago, here’s hoping for some fresh material soon – and more from Signe and its members.


Josefiina Vannesluoma: The Mortal Lease

Josefiina Vannesluoma, vocals, compositions

Mikael Myrskog, piano

Sampo Kasurinen, alto flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone 

Nathan Francis, double bass

Ville Luukkonen, drums


Flame Jazz Records, 2023