The music of Eckemoff can be interpreted less from the dialectic of supposed collective identities than from the bivalence, from the ambivalence, the ambivalence of human existence as such. And where else can this material be found in abundance than in the Bible? Their psalms are masterfully interpreted on one CD, sometimes vocally, sometimes purely instrumentally.
Better Than Gold And Silver
Rarely less than sublime, the group has that same symbiotic connectedness as John Abercrombie’s latter-day quartets. A different member of the ensemble carries the vocal line each time, tracing adulatory melodic arcs before dissolving into blissful passages of improvisation… Eckemoff’s music can perhaps wryly be described as being amongst the finest recordings that Manfred Eicher never produced.
The Russian pianist-composer’s chamber jazz-ish take on verses from the book of Psalms (two CDs, with and without vocal) is pleasantly easy-going yet too undemanding, even if it does offer an impressive array of New York’s leftfield jazz heads, including Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder, Drew Gress and Joey Baron.
In this new recording, dedicated to the reinterpretation of ten biblical psalms, she excites us and makes us partakers of a creative world that seems inexhaustible. ..There is room for improvisations, for moments of swing or Latin music, moments in which the musicians give a particular color to a music inspired by the liturgy, but that basically represents today’s jazz. Great record, solid and rich in musicality.
Eckemoff rightly considers this music to be modern jazz, not liturgical music. It takes its place alongside Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts (Prestige Records, 1968) and Steve Reich’s Tehillim (ECM New Series, 2000) (which presents his minimalist interpretation of the psalms). It also represents yet another new color in the rainbow of her recording projects, each different from the last.
Whether delivered by vocalist or instrumentalist, Eckemoff’s melodies are strong throughout, so much so you might find yourself hearing echoes of them once the recording’s over. …Think of Better Than Gold and Silver as a new addition to religion-inspired jazz works that include Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. …It also would be wrong to interpret her decision to release a religion-themed album as an attempt to convert listeners; Better Than Gold and Silver is instead a 142-minute expression of deep personal belief that she’s long wanted to share.
Extremely attractive project by the Russian-born pianist: elegant jazz compositions of almost chamber-musical character, which are oriented towards the praising verses and yet go beyond the words. The CD with vocals is by far the more interesting one, because with the warm tenor of Tomäs Cruz and the charming mezzo-soprano of Kim Mayo gold and silver really flow out of the speakers.
The ensemble’s sound, literally shaped by role models such as Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen and Tomasz Stanko, which owes much to the sound aesthetics of ECM, is brilliant thanks to the sound engineers James Farber and Owen Mulholland, but a slight feeling of satiety is still present by the middle of the second CD at the latest.
Even worldly listeners should sit up and take notice.
Setting biblical psalms to music… requires the ability not only to match and mold the cadences of ancient poetry, but also the ability to connect to the depth of prayer. Eckemoff does this but even more remarkable are the instrumental versions of the psalms found on a companion disc. These extended meditations are the purest expression of devotion to art as well as to god.
The extraordinary, phenomenal New York pianist Yelena Eckemoff prepares her every album comprehensively, publishing at the same time essays on music included on the album, as well as a talented painter while designing the cover of the publishing house. On each album, the artist surrounds herself with the greatest celebrities of world jazz, whose list with each subsequent album is enlarged by new names.
The result is far removed from all “jazz mass” clichés. ..Even worldly listeners should listen attentively.
Pianist Yelena Eckemoff has made a personal transition to faith but, in these recordings of Biblical psalms, has done so in a quiet fashion and her musical “choir” keeps the vision low-key and beautiful. ..The mood is almost uniformly consistent even while the lines share a good number of Eckemoff’s past directions: “Psalm 110” has hints of Latin rhythms; “Psalm 119” a touch of jazz tinged with modern classical; and a feel for gospel throughout. The most extended tracks are the gorgeously slow takes of the album’s closer, “Psalm 147”, the rhythm, as it develops, suggesting Bach. Eckemoff has said that she composed what she heard inside the psalms and every tune here reflects the passion and inner light of the composer.
Miss Eckemoff’s musical setting of these Psalms – both in the vocal renditions and the instrumental ones – succeeds magnificently. The music here suggests that she as arrived at the pinnacle of her creative musicianship which is born of the great Russian Romantic School. And in this regard she is supremely alone among all of her contemporaries – irrespective of cultural background – who rely on that Jazz-centred approach to music. It is exactly this aspect of her music that makes the music of these Psalms incandescent, profoundly human and intoxicating in their celebration of The Divine. This music is breathtakingly original and startling; her interpretations of each Psalm is – quite stunningly – authentic in that she captures the utter simplicity of ancient creators of Psalms making these works at once old and new so much so that it is safe to say they will become part of the continuum of spiritual music.This is, in short, Miss Eckemoff at her finest on a disc to die for…
Each release has its own charm and expression, but always bears the personal signature of the composer/pianist. For Better Than Gold And Silver she has come up with something very special. All-Star-Team succeeds in presenting an extremely expressive music on the highest level, which absolutely does justice to the Christian content of the psalms. And this has been accomplished absolutely with a beautiful and strongly harmonic lining, that often sounds truly like “Joy To The World”, music that spreads the Christian messages full of hope. Nevertheless, this is not church music in this sense, nothing sacred, but high-quality jazz using the psalms chosen by Eckemoff.
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. It has ECM-like mellow and attractive tonal quality and allows concentration on the music and piece discernment.
The words are sung over calm, occasionally reminiscent of the special sound of ECM, modern jazzy, in the slow pace compositions, the piano gives the melodies, the very well selected band (Joey Baron, Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder …) underlies discreet rhythm and improvised prudently.