Yelena Eckemoff has a story and a discography unique in jazz. She was classically trained during her childhood in Moscow, immigrated to the United States in 1991 and began making jazz records in 2010. She uses the best studios, the best engineers and the best musicians for her projects. Her sidemen have included Peter Erskine, Mark Turner, Joe Locke, Billy Hart and George Mraz.
As a jazz pianist and composer, Eckemoff retains a classical sensibility in her precise touch and in her systematic, refined, orderly forms. She writes minimalist études of romantic impressionism. The badasses she brings in to help her play them thrive in her measured yet open environments. Six of her releases to date are piano-trio recordings. Those with bassist Arild Andersen contain some of the most powerful, poetic work of his long career. Two of her recent albums engage additional players. Everblue has Andersen, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and drummer Jon Christensen. This Norwegian all-star contingent fits beautifully into Eckemoff’s aesthetic: Andersen with his looming pronouncements like final summations; Christensen with his suggestive rhythmic ambiguity; Brunborg with his clear, clean sound and respect for space.
Into the title track, which Eckemoff begins with glistening, small, widely separated clusters, Brunborg steps carefully, in long, solemn tones. Andersen’s entrance is dramatic, a slow, intense brooding. Their three very different voices then coexist in the song. A fourth, Christensen’s, scatters accents beneath them. Eckemoff’s tunes are grids that leave large spaces for improvisers. “Skyline” is all unanswered questions, Brunborg chasing its elusive, floating melody. “Abyss” is darker; upon Eckemoff’s bare frame, Andersen and Brunborg overlay portents and incantations.
That most of the compelling content on an Eckemoff album comes from her sidemen doesn’t diminish her achievement in setting up the rapt procedures that comprise her catalog. For an album so pretty, Everblue is deep.