When Jenny Gillespie Mason decided to get back into making music, she moved into her home studio in Berkeley and started creating for herself. Gnani, the resulting intensely personal six-song EP, released under her moniker Sis, is an unwavering exercise in personal growth and bold resonance. Sporting a vigorous fusion of analog frequencies with a modern production approach, sculpted by intimate wisdom, the project was inspired by a quote from Indian guru Nisargadatta Maharaj: “The gnani (he who knows) does not die, because he was never born.
Native Cat Recordsthe label founded by Mason, released a local group Brijeans’ first recording Talkie Walkie and Luke Temple projects. The distinctive sound has always been the imprint’s calling card. But after what Mason identified as “the wreckage of the collective years 2020-21,” his desire to express his own individuality took hold. Gnani became a vector of personal flow, a way of synthesizing her different identities as artist, wife and mother. She decided that this project would be without excuse, an appearance that only Mason could conjure up in a full-scale sound bath.
The EP is a little ethereal at times, but more often than not it’s warm, confidential and damn inviting. It may take a few turns to digest, to grasp its moving parts, but you can’t deny its outspoken ambition to provide shelter for a complex being. This part reads on its first take.
In the past, Sis was a group business. But this new solo-focused iteration, front-loaded with ambient modal tones that extend to groove-rooted abstract jazz fusion, uses vintage keyboards like the Clavinet, Phillicordia, Fender Rhodes, B3 Hammond Organ, Farfisa and ARP Odyssey. They exude the goosebumps type of feel good, very much in the witty vein of Alice Coltrane. It’s there that GnaniThe soul of resides, providing an interchangeable healing process for performer and listeners.
These moments are rhythmically enhanced by the expert and loose but coherent accompaniment of Brijean Murphy on congas, bongos and percussion, with Doug Stewart on bass. These labelmates breathe life into Mason’s compositions, making them sparkle. They move to the left-field electro-pop spurt of “Wooie,” complete with a bouncy bassline and off-kilter audio patterns. A family inclination becomes apparent by the end of the song, with the chatter of screaming youths in the background.
Later, we bask in the experimental psychedelic jazzy exploration of “Embodiment,” where analog keys hold down the bass foundation, while choppy drum patterns hold the tempo. Mason’s voice sings softly, tangled in the landscape. A solo by Fender Rhodes, moving with grace, emits comfort, peace. Murphy’s congo game takes us out, establishing some kind of normalcy with the cap removed.
But it’s Mason’s ambient keyboard technique that provides the spatial vibe on “Gazelle Rites,” a track that creates the modal feel so much that both listener and musician can embark on a journey, traveling inward. without moving.
Listen, the lack of complacency on Gnani is a major flex that denies mere understanding, going far beyond the structure of normcore pop songwriting. Mason’s recent history, handled by the EP circuits, receives a most fitting presentation. Think of it as a peaceful and intuitive way to start a new year.
Buy Sis’ Gnani PE here.