On her website, Russian-born pianist Yelena Eckemoff lists her albums under three headings: Classical, Original and Jazz. This raises a question about her criteria, since Leaving Everything Behind hardly represents what most people would classify as jazz. Of course, maybe it questions our preconceptions, too. After all, she has recruited three stellar jazz artists for this project. And there is plenty of improvisation on these 11 tracks. At the same time, those improvisations often don’t unfold in anything resembling a jazz format. Her piano seldom comps chords or plays clearly through changes. Sometimes she splashes dissonances in the background, as during violinist Mark Feldman’s solo on “Coffee & Thunderstorm.” More often, Eckemoff plays linearly, not so much while switching soloist and accompanist hats but as if lacing a thread through extemporized fabrics with various degrees of prominence in the mix. Always, her pedaling is subtle and expressive, her tone liquid or, as Chopinists like to say, “pearly.” Eckemoff, who is also a painter, presents Leaving Everything Behind as a visual  artist might show in a gallery. Each title evokes some element of her life from her perspective as an émigré. Her works nod occasionally toward literalism—drummer Billy Hart’s chugging hi-hat at the top of “Love Train” is one of the few compositions in 4/4 among her preferred 6/8 meter. More often, her music is abstract, suggesting rather than depicting deep currents of emotion, always with candor and originality.

Downbeat Leaving