Title: Religious Jazz Lieder/Sacred Improvisations
****1/2 & **** With already some 16 albums, the classically trained pianist (Moscow State Conservatory) but free jazz and religious composer Yelena Eckemoff has issued another album to continue her niche studies. This one has two CDs, one being the purely instrumental version of the vocal rendition featuring Kim Mayo, mezzo soprano, and Tomás Cruz, tenor. The 10 tracks are built upon the Psalms [58; 110; 119; 126; 131; 147]. Eckemoff’s group also includes veteran musicians Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Ben Monder, electric guitar; Christian Howes, violin; Drew Gress, double bass; and Joey Baron, drums. I am reminded of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown & Beige album with Mahalia Jackson singing the 23rd Psalm, and the religious settings of Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Ben Sidran, Wynton Marsalis, and Mary Lou Williams, and many other jazz artists, as Charles Lloyd, who performs spirituals. This is not ‘gospel jazz’ but more like jazz lieder, with the compositions and arrangements matched to the words or connotation of the Psalm. The sound is rich in melody and harmony with ornamental timbres of instrumental solos. Sometimes the rhythmic phrasing catches the ear, other times, the beauty captures the heart. The instrumental disc is not the same as the first minus the vocalists but an entirely new take with slightly longer tracks. It has ECM-like mellow and attractive tonal quality and allows concentration on the music and piece discernment. Although a couple tracks stand out, such as Psalm 119 Jod and the complex last piece, Psalm 147, with three subsections, the entire work of both discs is somewhat even, coherent in character. Future discs covering other Psalms are planned.