Since 2006, pianist Yelena Eckemoff has been stirring a chamber jazz cocktail two parts through-composed for each one improvised. With Leaving Everything Behind, she has perfected it. Eckemoff’s road to this point has been paved with classical roots, but has attracted increasingly heavier hitters of jazz to her entourage. Her friendship with bassist Arild Andersen, for one, led to their “Lions” trio with drummer Billy Hart. The latter’s approach to color makes for an easy corollary to Eckemoff’s painterly ways and his retention this time around is felt alongside two new collaborators: violinist Mark Feldman and bassist Ben Street.
Though Eckemoff has always been a self-aware musician, Leaving Everything Behind finds her in an especially conceptual mode. She repurposes earlier compositions among the fresh to tell the story of a young woman fleeing Soviet Russia and the ways in which music has constructed bridges to the places she put behind her. Whether comping with confidence in “Mushroom Rain” or drawing with light in “Hope Lives Eternal,” she moves around her bandmates by means of a genuinely expressive outreach.
The Eckemoff-Hart nexus gives off its broadest spectrum in the more programmatic pieces. Between the raindrop impressions of the “Prologue” to warmth of closer “A Date in Paradise,” pianist and drummer dispel an overcast sky until only sunshine remains. Titles such as “Spots of Light” and “Ocean of Pines” further indicate that silver linings reign supreme.
The balance of distinctly classical arrangements and jazzier change-ups yields affirmative soloing, most effectively through Feldman’s clear and present note craft, as in the evocative “Coffee and Thunderstorm,” a quintessential embodiment of what unites Eckemoff’s chosen genres: namely, the ability to expand fleeting moments into poetry. Other highlights in this regard—all the more so, ironically enough, for being so darkly ponderous—include the panoramic “Love Train” and, above all, the simpatico title track.
This set of variations on a theme of memory is Eckemoff’s finest to date and may at last put her on a map where she has been largely ignored.