This concept album, a suite, features a quartet with a couple of familiar names. The reedman (particularly haunting oboe) is Paul McCandless, renown for his work with the group Oregon. Having played with classical and jazz groups since 1972, drummer-percussionist Peter Erksine has over 700 albums to his credit plus a honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music. The bassist is Arild Andersen, a veteran at age 72; he is an internationally respected sideman since 1964. Leading the quartet as pianist and composer is Russian-born Yelena Eckemoff, who has issued a flurry of thematic albums since 2010. Her classical training and teaching are quickly recognized in her jazz scores.
The 11 tracks over 74 minutes are impressions of deserts and their inhabitants. Arabian-imagined motifs weave into the dense, bright, often noisily dramatic pieces. Timbre itself of soprano and alto reeds, deep bass, the orchestral piano, and mid-range drums and cymbals produce various hues of sound. The evocative titles, such as Bedouins, Mirages, Oasis, Dust Storm, and Sands, set the mood of each musical poem…..or story, as Eckemoff, seen in package notes, has written her own fanciful Arabian tales and poems for each work. Neither romantic Rimsky-Korsakov nor the whispy ECM jazz sound, the music finds a middle ground (as defined by Oregon over the many decades). A highlight of the album is the track Dance, which is the exemplar of Eckemoff’s approach. Mirage is noted by the number and variety of Romantic themes. The dark, forlorn and dissonant Colors of Nothingness continues with the soaring Condor, and even Garden of Eden is covered by sad sands. Twice is nice: As it may take a while for the ear to accustom to any unusual, inventive group’s sound and style, better appreciation will come with a second hearing.