Recorded on August 17-18, 2010 in Pasadena, CA. Original music by Yelena Eckemoff with Yelena Eckemoff on piano, Darek Oleszkiewich on double-bass, and Peter Erskine on drums. 75 minute CD comes with 20 page color booklet documenting the session at the Firehouse Recording Studios.
The brilliant new release from pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff titled “Flying Steps" is a musical excursion with one of the most captivating composers of today. Eckemoff is joined here by the great Peter Erskine on drums, and Darek Oleszkiewicz on bass. This release is the third installment of a trio of recordings recently released by Eckemoff. Her first two “Cold Sun" and “Grass Catching Wind" both received worldwide critical acclaim. “Flying Steps" is a very personal journey for Eckemoff. Selections such as “For Harry," “Tears Will Come,” and “Tomorrow" which are inspired by her personal relationships, to her inner self which is featured in “Isolated." Yelena Eckemoff is music for listening. The intricacies and passion for which this music is presented will have you asking “when is the forth installment.
From Yelena's Journal:
Track 1: PROMISE
Promise” was the very first song we recorded at the session in Pasadena, with Peter Erskine and Darek Oleszkiewicz. It was the first time we ever played together as a trio, and of course the first time I played live with Peter Erskine – what a thrill!.. We had a quick sound check and then played the first take of “Promise.” I begin gently as a piano solo and prepare for bass and drum entering. I felt goose bumps as Darek “sneaked in” at the perfect spot. By the time we got to the active section of a song, I felt such unity and great vibes from Darek and Peter, that I knew for sure, that the session will be a success. After we finished, Peter came out of his booth, holding the lead sheets, and said: “I love to discover for the first time the piece of music,” and made a pause, and I didn’t know what he was going to say but he said: “This is absolutely fantastic, I love it! It's really nice!” We recorded only two takes, and both sounded great.
Track 2: A SMILE
I actually composed this tune in my early twenties. It was a short piece for piano, which I later included in the “Sketches of My Youth” on the “Piano Chronicles, album 2” CD. As I decided to use this material in Pasadena session, I changed the structure a little bit, added some space for bass. I thought this would be an easiest tune to play, but it was not so. I wrote the bass part, and Darek studied it diligently. He thought that my bass line made perfect sense, but when we started to record, something was not working. We tried to record it in different tempo, yet something was still not right. We couldn’t figure it out, and it was time for lunch, so we took a break. During lunch we were still thinking about that song, it was on our minds. Peter said maybe Darek needs to play his own part not the one I wrote. I was really supportive of that idea but Darek said “no, it’s fine, it sounds good.” We came across a point where some of the 8th notes in that song were straight and some swung. Then I got enlighten and said: “Why don’t we just play the whole song as a blues, and Darek will ditch the part I wrote?” Darek was skeptical, but he reluctantly agreed, and after the break we sat down and played that song as a pseudo blues, and it worked at once, so this very take went on the CD.
Track 3: GOOD MORNING!
A few songs on this album have dedications. This one is dedicated to my youngest son Anthony. We like to have breakfasts together and take every chance to do so. The nice atmosphere of morning, the sun is shining through lacy curtains; we are having strong coffee and eggs and whatever else we cook, talk, laugh and have a best time together, and life feels trouble-free and everything seems possible. I used a traditional jazz form here, which is rather uncommon choice for me. The tune development is lengthy, with no repeated harmonies, because we talk about nothing and everything at once and feel good about it: mother and son. In the reprise the melody is played by bass, with contrapuntal piano. Peter had a bright idea (one of many bright ideas he had during the session) to do the shaker overdub to the whole song, and it did the final magic, contributing to the warm fuzzy feeling of a truly good morning.
Track 4: FOR HARRY
I wanted to create a song that my husband would really like. I did not intend to paint his musical portrait, although it happened to be a little bit like that… The quiet beginning is complicated by odd time signature and polyphonic texture. You can hear the piano and bass converse, while drums are almost not there, letting two instruments talk tête-à-tête. Then comes another intense slow tune, now in regular time signature [4 by 4], where piano is taking a lead and bass retrieves to the background. Since Harry likes to dance, I developed this composition into a rhythmical and clearly structured music that might be suitable for dancing: unpretentious melody with the bass answering the piano, unfolding over the thrilling drum patterns and climaxing in a powerful drum solo, where Peter summarizes and resolves everything that was building up. The last drum hit has a special delay effect, which Peter asked Rich [Breen] to engineer right on the spot. The song ends quietly on the material of the first tune. It did become one of Harry’s favorite tunes (and not only Harry’s!), so I was pleased.
Track 5: ISOLATED
This is another piece from my early twenties. Very introspective; it has a feel of the lonely a person who is left to his own devices: deep in thought, looking inside yourself. After my graduation from the Moscow conservatory I joined the Moscow jazz studio. As a result, I started borrowing jazz elements and adding them to my composition technique. At the studio we studied and played strictly traditional jazz, like evergreens: Autumn Leaves, Ornithology, Satin Doll, Caravan, etc. But my interpretation of jazz was far from the traditional approach we were studying. Today, at my maturity age, I look back and realize that even though I was not even aware of what Manfred Eicher was doing at exactly the same time with his ECM Records, (actually, I learned about ECM and its musicians only several years ago,) I nevertheless have been moving in the same direction on my own, advancing all these years in sort of parallel spheres. This tune in particular is a valid proof of it. I had one of the best experiences recording this piece in Pasadena. This will probably stay one of the best memories of my life as a musician. When the time came to record “Isolated,” I wanted to introduce this song to Peter and Darek. So I said: it goes like that, and started to play. Peter joined, then Darek, and we played the whole song the way you hear it. After we stopped, Peter said: “That was it. It can’t get any better”. And that’s how it went on the CD: done in one take. We decided not to play a second take, because we wanted to keep the magic of the fresh impression.
Track 6: WHERE IS MAXIM?
Maxim is my older son. We have a complicated relationship, and, sadly, are driven further and further apart. In this music I am looking for my son, who is not with me any more, and try to find answers, a key to a better understanding of the situation. I feel angry and sad, but at the same time - not without hope. Funny detail: Peter asked me about this piece, how should he approach it, and I told him about my mixed feeling towards Max. Then he asked me if I have his picture, and I didn’t, but I showed him Max’s picture on internet. Peter looked at it and said: “Now I know how to play this song!”
Track 7: TEARS WILL COME
This piece is based upon a song I composed many years ago for my mother, who commissioned me to write music to the poem by the Russian writer Ivan Bunin, for her book she was working at and planned to publish. The meaning of this lyrical poem was something like “A New Moon in Thought.” I had composed this music sometime in my early twenties, gave it to my mom and forgot about it. Nearly 30 years after that, I found this piece of handwritten music, which was my mom’s neat and careful copy of my messy original, among the other papers that my parents brought with them from Russia when they finally joined us here in US several years ago. Sadly, my mother only lived with us for 2, 5 years. I found this piece of music shortly after her death, and as I looked at her writing and how she was trying to do it neatly and nicely, and cried from the pain of loosing her. The music itself appeared to be sweet and gentle, just like my mom, and got instantly associated in my mind with her. I developed that tune into the composition that you’re listening to and named it “Tears will come,” because when long time ago my mom wanted me to compose this song, none of us one knew that future will bring our separation for many years; then my mom would get sick and lose her memory, so when we would finally reunite, she would not even be able to enjoy living with her beloved daughter and recognize her grandchildren she used to adore… These tragic circumstances brought tears of sorrow and regret for the loss, but also tears of the overwhelming love I have always felt for my mom. I actually wanted to name the whole CD after this song, but in his behind-the-scenes video interview, Peter said: “It was lovely not only to hear your new compositions, but to hear how our playing of your music evolved. So, the record is a journey, and maybe your title should reflect that. We don’t think “tears will come” is the best title. It’s a lovely tune, but maybe for an album title - something that would attract and invite people, so they can hear your wonderful music, and it’s unique, we enjoyed it, and I hope it will be a great success.”
Track 8: INSOMNIA
This insomnia idea of course is very self explanatory: a person can’t go to sleep, can’t relax during the night hours, bothered by his of disturbed and agitated mind. 2010 – the year I was working on the music material for “Flying Steps” - was very wearisome year for me, and insomnia was often a part of my life routine then. This is an active song, especially the improvised section, where I saw a chance for all three of us get loose. You can hear that troublesome thoughts circle and circle around in your mind. In the end they finally give way to a drowsy feeling and finally - a liberating sleep. Again, we only recorded 2 takes; almost no fixes. Peter said “That’s a hit.”
Track 9: MAMA
This piece is one of my most special musical pieces, and I will try to explain why. My mother died on December 7 of 2009. She suffered a sudden heart attack, which no one could see coming. As I came to see her in the morning, she was nervous and pale, so I put her back to bed and sat down with her, holding her hand and trying to calm her down. She looked at me with love and tenderness, tears streaming from her eyes, and was trying to say something, and I suddenly got really scared, but in just a couple of minutes everything was over, as I watched my dearest mother take her last breath and lay still. Yet I could not understand what was going on, everything happened so fast… The ambulance came and was trying to resuscitate her but in vain. I saw her laying breathless on her bed, the dearest person of my whole life, with the last tear still fresh on her cheek, and could not believe this was happening. I saw that she was not alive any more, because she was not breathing, but it was beyond my comprehension. Then they took her away, and suddenly I felt that if I touch the keys of my piano, I would still be able somehow to keep her close by. I went to my studio, sat at the piano and started playing. The sounds were coming out of somewhere deep and high at the same time, soothing my heart overwhelmed with pain, and I felt that the spirit of my dearest mother is near. I sensed that my mother’s soul which was not in the body any longer, was confused and wondering, but as she heard my music, she was reassured and went on. This was a way for me to communicate with her spirit and trying to help. I started to write the notes down on paper, and they flowed and flowed; I was writing down the music as I heard it in my head, and I did not stop until I knew that the song was complete. I was trying to reach to her through the sound of the music, because that was only way left to me to unite with my mother’s spirit. I believe that my dear mother’s soul got reflected in this music, and that any time this music is played, her sweet spirit is around me. I think this music captured her childlike nature, her charming and lovable personality, and also my overwhelming love for her. She was very kind and pure; she loved music, nature, children so much, and was like a child herself, never meant anyone anything bad. She was a wonderful pianist, bright, exuberant, creative person who loved her family so much that she would completely sacrifice herself for it. And she had to suffer a lot in her life, especially the last years, yet her tender heart was not equipped for sufferings… But the death of her body, however painful for me, has liberated her from suffering and opened the doors to another existence. At the end of the song, as bass is playing the gentle melody, my mother sees her home-town Tambov, the place where she was born, and she is walking towards it. She is reunited with her beloved parents and all the people that she loves, her memory and health are flowing back into her and, with the sweet smile back on her wonderful face, she disappears into the paradise.
Track 10: FLYING STEPS
This longest piece on the album (12, 5 minutes) is dedicated to Peter Erskine. Initially the name was simply “Steps,” meaning to exploit the philosophical idea of steps we take to become who we are while growing up, pursuing various goals, going through life changes, etc. But when I was up in the air taking a flight back home after the recording session in Pasadena, one particular view from the plane’s window (I caught it on my camera and used this image for a CD front cover) grabbed my attention. All my thoughts and feelings that crowded my mind and filled my heart, have suddenly summarized in this beautiful view, and I thought about my flight across the United States as a symbol of the giant steps that brought me to recording with some of the greatest musicians in the world. That prompted me to call the song (and the entire album) “Flying Steps.” Beside of the great honor of working with Peter and Darek, I was truly privileged to experience the luxurious ride at the Firehouse Studios with one of the most sought after American recording engineers, Rich Breen, famous for his immaculate true-to-life, crisp sound. It was a pleasure to watch how masterfully he engineered the session; everything he did was fast, 100% accurate and efficient. Also adding to the quality of the project was involvement of a wonderful photographer, Tony Barbera, who preserved our session in numerous high quality images. All of this together made this recording session an absolutely best experience I have ever had with recording my music and marked a huge step up for me. Structurally, “Flying Steps” is close to the sonata form, with the development section comprised of free-style piano, bass and drums solos and has a feel of suspense – the similar feel one might acquire from flying for a long time. We had to work harder on this one and recorded several takes: long composition, busy texture, very structured with no exact repeats and with many written out sections. I really liked the way Darek played his solo, very musical: no showing off, but building on the melodic material of the piece. Peter in his turn made a small drum composition out of his solo. He begins his solo very quietly, almost like it’s the end of the song, but then grows it phrase by phrase, borrowing rhythmical ideas from the main tune, which makes drum solo a vital part of the tune development. It seems like he plays not drums, but other musical instruments, and you can almost hear the melody… Peter finishes his dramatic solo with a feel of the end of composition, and when reprise starts with the main theme, it sounds, to my opinion, very refreshing – as some kind of unexpected, but happy turn of events. When, as a conclusion to the whole composition, the first melody is repeated in a quiet, relaxed way, it indicates a closure, but on a higher level, contributing to the idea of steps.
Track 11: TOMORROW
The last song on the CD is dedicated to the great Polish-born bass player Darek Oleszkiewicz, whom Peter recommended as a perfect choice for my music. Indeed, Darek did an excellent job interpreting my music; he was really careful and respectful to all ideas of mine, also generously contributing his remarkable improvisatory gift, extensive experiences, and great training (he is a Charlie Haden’s student.) Darek really liked this composition and commented that it contained a lot of fine music happenings. Except for his solo, I wrote the bass part to the whole composition, because bass and piano are closely intervened here, and I heard bass lines being part of melody. Darek’s short, but heartfelt solo, is very emotional and expressive. I think it turned out to be a focal point of the whole song. “Tomorrow” is a slow paced song, but very intense, expressing my positive outlook to the future and hope for a laudable tomorrow. I thought that thinking of tomorrow was a good way to end the album, build around a concept of steps that take you to the higher levels of life; the album which tells the story about my new achievements as a composer, pianist, and a band leader.
|6.||Where is Maxim?||Listen|
|7.||Tears Will Come||Listen|