Upon listening to Grass Catching the Wind ’s spacious, opening track, “Anticipation of Spring,” you might be tempted to categorize Yelena Eckemoff as Russia’s answer to George Winston. But then the sensitive Danish rhythm tandem of bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Morten Lund enters the picture to provide some conversational push-and-pull beneath all that infernal tinkling. Advocates claim Eckemoff is creating a new genre—classical world improv. (I prefer to think of it as doily jazz.) The trio does generate some nice interaction on “Rain Streams” and “Somebody Likes Jogging,” the pensive title track and the ECM-ish “Summer Heat,” the classically flavored “Overcast” and “Sonnet for the Flowers,” but a little of this hyper-delicate stuff goes a long way.
Grass Catching the Wind
Sometimes, well often if truth be told, reviewing a CD isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Take for example Grass Catching The Wind by Yelena Eckemoff for example. I’ve lived with this CD now for a good few weeks, going back to listen to it again and again, starting with different songs to change focus and changing the ambience of the situation that I do so, whether that be in a darkened room with headphones on, playing it at high volume from my hi-fi, sitting at the lap-top, or indeed while driving the car. Yet still I can’t get beyond appreciating that the musicianship on show is stunning and that the music evokes what is intended, but just doesn’t hold my attention. Style wise this album merges post-bop jazz with classical structures and Eckemoff does make a sterling job of bringing these two genres together in manner that smooth and natural.
Grass Catching The Wind continues the “seasons” theme that Eckemoff began with Cold Sun and as I mentioned, the songs on this album certainly bring images to mind that marry up with titles such as “Summer Heat,” “Anticipation Of Spring,”or “Harvest.” Undoubtedly that was the intention laid down by the three piece of Eckemoff on piano, Mads Vinding on double bass and [Morten Lund] on drums and on that level this album is a huge success. However with the songs almost meeting the full capacity of a CD (77:59 in this case), this is a journey that is just too meandering in form and execution to hold your interest for that length of time and when you consider that the themes are almost conceptual in style, makes for the odd conundrum that the songs also don’t necessarily shine when taken out of context. In truth this album would have benefitted from losing at least fifteen or so minutes.
Eckemoff herself is an amazingly deft and subtle musician who paints picture with her gentle, but firm piano work and with the backing she receives from Vinding and Lund, there’s no doubting that this is a trio who are completely locked together in musical space. Putting my finger on why that doesn’t result in an album that ever managed to completely captivate me is to be honest a tough task, but it never did. Possibly it is due to its length and the use of themes that are too similar throughout the whole album, although maybe that is inherent of trying to capture a “season” on a disc? If this musical style and genre are where your tastes reside then I have no hesitation in telling you that you will revel in much of the music laid bare here, for me the themes may be Spring, but too often Grass Catching The Wind left me rather cold.
Here’s a disc that’s going to be a pleasant surprise. Russian-born Yelena Eckemoff is a classically trained pianist who’s put out a couple of impressive releases in that genre. On this release, she delves into jazz, and demonstrates a completely original sound; no Tyner, Jarrett, Hancock etc. A few hints of the Romantics like Chopin and Schubert pop up once in a while, but it fits in well with this trio disc with Mads Vinding/b and Morten Lund/dr. The music itself is a 75+ minute musical journey through seasons, climates and geographies, with musical waxings and wanings creating a seamless sonic panorama. The music is intelligent without being pedantic, sophisticated without being sterile, creative without being indulgent, and sensitive without being desultory. Tunes bounce, weave, collide and open up as temperatures and musical barometric pressures change. The teamwork allows for soloing for all concerned. A surprise that will stand the test of time. Look for this one!
A well balanced and focused jazz trio can create a superb ambiance. Yelena Eckemoff is using the trio format to capture the essence of seasons. Cold Sun was released last year and it reflected the bleakness of winter with icy, crystalline notes and reserved arrangements. She is exploring spring with and the compositions on Grass Catching the Wind are warmer, brighter. The trio has changed – slightly. Eckemoff is still at the piano and Mads Vinding is still the bassist; however, Morten Lund has replaced Peter Erskine on the drums for this consideration of the season following winter. They perform sublimely. Once the idea of spring was planted it was easy to hear it expressed in the music. “Anticipation of Spring” is the opener and the solitary notes of Eckemoff’s piano portray the sprouting of new grass and blossoms; you can hear the effects of hibernation wearing off. The song is like a fresh breath, the feeling of emergence is tangible. The bass lines capture the essence of yawning and creaking after a long sleep. Morten Lund’s drumming, especially his imitation of raindrops pattering on the cymbals combined with an occasional whack on the splash, add reality to the visions of “Rain Streams”, the second song. “Somebody Likes Jogging” and “Emerald World” bring out the playfulness of spring, Vinding’s bass briskly walking us through the warmth and joy of the season. The title song, “Grass Catching the Wind” is evocative of the that wind, light and peaceful, with Vinding’s bass providing the intro and outro. This quiet peace is followed by “Overcast” which is just a beautiful song that highlights Eckemoff’s depth on the piano. The CD ends with “Neverland” a quiet conclusion to this meditation on spring.
So if George Winston was a Russian émigré living out in the woods and doing his seasons records today, this might be a touch of what they would sound like. Leading an impressionistic trio that leans more toward ECM than Windham Hill, this is introspective music for the neo-classical fan that knows how to recognize the real deal. Solidly made.
Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff seems to be working her way through the seasons. Her latest album, “Grass Catching the Wind,” welcomes the warmer weather, a sentiment many of us share. Vinding returns on bass and Morten Lund is the drummer. This is no less introspective than the last recording and again is made up of originals that combine jazz with classical music but in an organic way, free of pretension. The music is imaginative, as are some of the titles (“Somebody Likes Jogging.”)