Kaisa’s Machine, Taking Shape Review
Taking Shape: Orchestrating the Soul’s Resonance with Kaisa’s Machine
by Nolan DeBuke
Imagine a composer, meticulously crafting for her working ensemble, where specific players are given melodies created with care and patience, allowing them to bloom. This is the essence of Kaisa Mäensivu’s journey with her ensemble, Kaisa’s Machine. Formed in 2015, Kaisa’s Machine began as a sapling in the Finnish soil, blossoming into a rich and imaginative bouquet with the debut album In the Key of K in 2017. It’s a creation full of tight-knit arrangements and inspired solos, a garden where each note thrives.
The desire to learn, grow, and transform led Kaisa to New York in 2016, where the budding composer found a fertile environment to broaden her horizons. She earned her master’s degree from Manhattan School of Music, a nurturing greenhouse where she was tended by jazz legends like Dave Liebman and Ron Carter. Her musical roots deepened, absorbing the city’s nutrients, and evolved into a new form. Like any composer with a clear vision, she carefully selected new musicians to bring into the fold of Kaisa’s Machine. The resulting project, Taking Shape, marked her first New York harvest, a product of growth under the auspices of Dave Douglas’ prestigious Greenleaf Music label.
Her album, flourishing with youthful energy within the prestigious New York City jazz scene, marked a “new, progressive and hard-hitting direction” in her music. Kaisa’s transformation from a straight-ahead bassist into a versatile player is vividly depicted through twelve original compositions that embrace the city’s vibrant musical landscape.
Under the guidance of Executive Producer Dave Douglas, the album was crafted with precision and passion. Kaisa took the reins as the producer, shaping her vision with care and attention to detail. The recording sessions were held on December 11th and 19th, 2022, at Big Orange Sheep Studios in Brooklyn, NY, an environment known for nurturing creativity.
Alon Benjamini served as the recording engineer, with Cat Evers assisting, capturing the distinct sounds and emotions of the ensemble. Matias Kiiveri mixed the album, skillfully blending textures and tones to create a cohesive sound, and Benjamini returned to master the project, adding the final polish.
An essential part of the success of Taking Shape is the ensemble’s lineup, a harmonious blend of old and new musical relationships. In this lush musical ecosystem, each musician’s contribution is like a unique element of nature. Tivon Pennicott’s tenor saxophone (tracks 2-3,5,8,11) is like an exotic bird, singing melodies that dance through the air. Sasha Berliner’s vibraphone (tracks 3-4) resonates like wind chimes, adding a delicate sparkle to the landscape. Max Light’s guitar is the sunlight that nourishes and warms, guiding the growth of the music. Eden Ladin’s piano (except track 4) serves as a tranquil water feature, with melodies rippling, connecting the elements, and mirroring the soul of the garden. Kaisa herself, as the bassist, is the robust tree trunk, grounding the ensemble with strength and grace. Joe Peri’s drums are the heartbeat, the rhythm of life in this lush musical ecosystem.
All through Taking Shape, Kaisa Mäensivu’s ensemble, Kaisa’s Machine, crafts a compelling narrative marked by sonic richness and surprising twists. Each piece plays its part in a musical tapestry that embraces the human experience in all its shades. From the gentle dawn of ‘I’ to the uplifting freedom of ‘Aurora Unbound,’ the album celebrates life’s joys, ponders its mysteries, and contemplates its struggles.
The thematic journey takes the listener on a ride from the floating lightness of creative expression in ‘Floating Light’ to the grounded reality in ‘Gravity.’ Here, the picture painted is sometimes bouncy and groovy, at other times profound and reflective. The exotic bird-like melodies of ‘Sizzler’ dance through the air, resonating with Kaisa’s personal connection with playing bass.
The contemplative ‘Shadow Mind’ explores inner thoughts, while ‘Eat Dessert First’ ends the album with a playful nudge to embrace life’s simple joys. ‘Sink or Swim’ offers an analogy for life’s challenges, and ‘Better Intention’ reflects on personal growth and self-discovery.
Overall, Taking Shape plays like a through-composed jazz piece, where each track unfolds with individual character, while maintaining a strong and cohesive theme. This theme resonates with Mäensivu’s vision of music as a reflection of human experience — pure and relatable, sometimes bouncy, and groovy in celebration, other times contemplative, making listeners ponder the mysteries and tragedies of life. Through her expressive compositions and the role of anchoring her talented ensemble with her solid bass playing, Kaisa has found the ideal platform to express this vision. Taking Shape is a heartfelt journey that connects us all, a musical narrative that dances with life, and a reflection of the innovative spirit and emotional depth of modern jazz.