Title: Yelena Eckemoff’s “Everblue”: Modern Jazz Composition & Group Interaction at the Very Highest Level!
Some years ago, in Paris’ oldest existing church, I had occasion to witness one of those transcendent musical moments you only long for. The featured piano recitalist performed an all-Chopin program. However, at the very end of the last song of the evening, he unexpectedly segued from that Chopin waltz into a chorus adapted directly from jazz master Bill Evans’ own, most famous piece: “Waltz for Debby.” The shift was so subtle that most listeners likely missed the latter, extended homage to Evans. After the concert, as the evening’s humble virtuoso stood in a receiving line, I leaned forward and whispered in his ear: “Bill Evans.” He smiled broadly at the recognition…
I share this immensely meaningful highlight from my own lifetime romance with all genres of music (though particularly jazz) because it leads me to the door of Yelena Eckemoff’s latest, marvelously satisfying contribution: “Everblue.” As with the Parisian pianist that night, who spoke only French (and I, English), so it is with Ms. Eckemoff, whose Russian background is matched by mine in Texas. Two very different worlds geographically. But not just that Parisian parallel: Yelena bridges, as did the exquisite Chopin/Evans performance, equal adeptness in two, traditionally non-intersecting musical worlds — classical and jazz.
Part of what makes “Everblue” such satisfying brew is Ms. Eckemoff’s obvious mastery of jazz, even while rooted in years of classical immersion and training in Russia. I’ll leave it to others to verify, but I understand that she through-composes her entire piano parts, sans improvisation, across her entire jazz discography. All I know for sure is that, as a lifelong jazz drummer, you could have fooled me! Yelena’s jazz piano, written out in toto or not, conveys what the best modern jazz pianists (from Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett and Ms. Eckemoff herself) have always expressed: the spirit of improvisation, of acute in-the-moment listening and responding which truly sets jazz apart from all other art forms.
Here, with “Everblue,” categories (of jazz or classical, of improvised vs. composed) no longer pertain. All that matters is the being moved; which you, as open-eared listener, will no doubt be by this Yelena Eckemoff/Arild Andersen-penned suite of ocean/sky-themed compositions.
It is no small deal the coup that Yelena has pulled off here: to bring together four, certified masters of European jazz. Arild Andersen, a giant on bass; Jon Christensen, his equal on drums; Tore Brunborg, a companion of Andersen and Christensen for 35 years, on saxophones; all captured in utterly transparent fidelity by the preeminent engineering maestro himself, Jan Erik Kongshaug, in his world-renowned Rainbow Studio in Oslo.
With all due respect to Manfred Eicher — and he deserves a world of it! — and the fathomless legacy of ECM Records…Ms. Eckemoff has brought this same aesthetic to our doors, at least for this time, quite outside of Eicher/ECM’s hallowed imprimatur. (An intriguing situation!)
I have such respect for Yelena, the artist: whose courage over the course of her growing jazz oeuvre (every album is worth owning) includes drawing only on the “best and brightest” in modern jazz players (and now engineers). She picks only those most sensitive of accompanists to join her in expressing the jazz compositions coming through. Each album, and “Everblue” is no exception, exemplifies the kind of selfless interaction which characterizes the finest that jazz music has to offer.
While “Everblue” may be no exception to the across-the-board excellence of her entire output to date, it nevertheless, to my mind, represents the culmination of all that has come before for Yelena. Andersen’s subtle harmonics, Christensen’s glancing cymbal caresses, Brunborg’s whispered cries, all circling about the piano as hub — Ms. Eckemoff the most elegant mistress of ceremonies — are just small examples of what make for the rich, fully nourishing meal most music-lovers treasure.
Do just that right now: sit back, savor each composition, and indeed the inseparable whole of all these thematically linked pieces, and anticipate good things. Yelena Eckemoff most definitely delivers!
Dr. Bob Weathers, Irvine, California
P.S. Don’t miss the superbly produced Youtube videos announcing the release of “Everblue”: