Quick, name a female jazz vocal group – not counting those World War II-era sister trios. How about one that performs ancient Greek poetry and sea shanties in English, Finnish and Swedish?
Signe isn’t really a jazz group, though the quartet does perform at jazz clubs and events. Mostly a cappella, their sound mingles folk, pop, barbershop and choral singing.
Their debut album features swooping vocal pyrotechnics worthy of vocalese group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross or fellow Finns Tuuletar. Their satiny close harmony turns shrill and cartoony on Cretan Girls, which wears thin after a few listens, though.
While Sappho’s poems were originally sung accompanied by a lyre, these are accompanied by New York bassist Kaisa Mäensivu of the group Kaisa’s Machine. Her supple stand-up bass anchors the set to the jazz tradition, as does vibraphone by Panu Savolainen of the trio Herd. He appears on Tulevaisuuteni, based on a 1925 poem [Tulevaisuuden varjo] by Edith Södergran, which features sublime scat and call-and-response vocals.
Ode to Aphrodite, Sappho’s best-known poem, dating back more than 2,500 years, is sensitively set to music by jazz composer Mikko Sarvanne. Several other compositions are by group member Josefiina Vannesluoma, whose background in bossa nova, be-bop and Steve Reich suggests the range of influences here.
The result is utterly original, uncategorisable art – unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.
SIGNE: To Sappho
Riikka Keränen (vocals)
Selma Savolainen (vocals)
Josefiina Vannesluoma (vocals)
Kaisa Mäensivu (vocals & bass)
feat. Panu Savolainen (vibraphone)
Eclipse Music ECD-201979