The Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff is known for her exceptional Piano Jazz albums. On her new double CD, she has now been influenced by feelings and observations of the summer (CD1) and the winter (CD2). This is in-demand high-class jazz.
Blooming Tall Phlox
Each album by Yelena Eckemoff impresses. Every one of them, however, shows another face of the Russian artist, so it is impossible to judge the album with one measure. “Blooming Tall Phlox,” just like the two years earlier, “Everblue” documents one of the Scandinavian episodes of the pianist. In any case, loyal fans of the artist do not need to be persuade to this album, and participation in the recordings of Finnish jazz cream will make those discs also reach those who have not met the musical genius of Yelena Eckemoff.
Verneri Pohjola, flh, tp, Panu Savolainen, vib, Antti Lötjönen, b, and Olavi Louhivuori, dr, perc, spent three-day-long weekend together with the pianist, idea giver, and composer, sharing all their time in music with one another, resulting in recording of an immense laid-back and nevertheless deeply profound music… Music, which one does not need to classify, which is individual, intelligent, full of surprises! She is a musician who puts her bandmates at ease and makes them nearly oblivious to surroundings and inspires them to form music that, while arising from almost informal meeting, deserves large audience.
The Russian classical pianist, Yelena Eckemoff, now living in the U.S. and dedicating herself to jazz continues to forge a singular musical path – and a generous one, too, this being her 10th jazz release since 2010. I have always found her approach intriguing because although she surrounds herself with jazz musicians and improvises herself, her way of structuring her music and indeed her own playing sounds much more aligned – at least to my under-educated ears – with classical composition than the Afro-American jazz conventions. ..A thoroughly absorbing couple of hours of beautifully conceived and sensitively played music. Do check this out and also Yelena Eckemoff’s back catalogue.
It is her already tenth album within short six years. Eckemoff has used this time to create her completely own take on jazz. With “Blooming Toll Phlox” the extraordinary Russian jazz pianist has published a beautiful, dreamy album. Once again she managed to harmonize everything in herself and pack it with a touch of mysticism.
This is the most interesting record from a Russian pianist educated in Soviet rigor but impertinent enough to offer spaces of freedom on the margins of his “classic” career. She is a pianist, composer of great talent who invents open, poetic, sensitive music. Listen!
Musically the album is diverse. The vibraphone in “Apples laid out on the floor” lets the scent of the ripe fruits rise from the bottom upwards, the piano moves freely around this fragrance in the room, and bass and percussion surround the walls and ceilings. The quintet, composed of Finnish musicians, acts around a piano and broadens it up. It stimulates dynamically and acts also in the tempo variable, there is then there is even a tango is to be heard. The clean recording sounds transparent and open, the instruments are recorded very directly, resulting in a minimalist smaller room impression. Yelena Eckemoff delivers a virtuoso and at the same time diverse song series – more than just the scent of nature.
The music on this record sounds very Nordic, leading to emerging of chamber and visual music, music that sometimes sounds like the setting of poems. Working with her the young Finnish talents, full of vigor and enthusiasm have been able to produce very atmospheric and olfactory experience of a very high and quite fresh level. Band plays very tightly and as one remarkable unit, creating an exciting and at the same time relaxing listening experience. Whether the smell of summer is different from that of winter, let everyone decide for himself. Maybe you can also lean against the respective song titles and try to associate with their content in each case, going deeper and deeper into this sound poetry.
Yelena Eckemoff is not a jazz pianist of afro-american tradition. She is a classical trained, and her compositional focus is on late romanticism and impressionism – a tradition which is alive and well in Russia. She wants to tell very personal stories in her own language that is easy to understand, the stories in which everyone can discover his own recollections through these scents and join in with his own memory.
The Russian pianist has something special that makes her one of Europe’s premier jazz players. Her aesthetic is very personal and by listening to two CDs you notice immediately her freedom of ideas, far from the more swinging American jazz, but also far from the imitations of European jazz icons like John Taylor or Tomasz Stanko.
On Blooming Tall Phlox, an evocative and slow-burning album that mixes jazz and classical music with an experimental bent, composer and pianist Yelena Eckemoff paints programmatic audio pictures with her layered, rich compositions. From the first tune, it’s apparent that isn’t an album for casual listening.
This new two-CD release is a fascinating exploration of sense of smell and other nature-related ideas. Both Eckemoff and her lesser-known Finnish colleagues are impressive here. Concept albums can seem forced or too cute at times, but this one works at every level. Often simply beautiful and always engaging, this is a winner.
Yelena Eckemoff is a singular musical voice. With every new performance in the studio or on stage Eckemoff puts a greater distance between herself from virtually all other musicians – pianists or otherwise. ..Eckemoff has just enough of the ‘changeling’ in her to constantly elude you in every sense of the term: she is from the realm of the fays; a Tuatha Dé Danann who comes to life just long enough to make a tantalizingly beautiful record. ..Yet it is a performance, the like of which will never be the same the next time around because – well – that’s just how things are with Yelena Eckemoff.
With Blooming Tall Phlox, Yelena Eckemoff expands her already broad purview with an album that recalls her Russian childhood, through an unusual inspiration: smell. ..What Eckemoff has done, is raise her own game as a writer, performer and bandleader while, at the same time, providing a clear context for the growth of her young Finnish band mates. While there’s no denying that she easily holds her own with the bigger names that pepper many of her other releases, there’s a certain feeling of both comfort and informality that imbues Blooming Tall Phlox, clearly Eckemoff’s most maturely conceived, effortlessly liberated, superbly executed…and unpredictable…release to date.
Eckemoff’s piano playing is a big part of the sound. She tends to give more solo space to her guests, but she has plenty of shining minutes as soloist, as well as providing important musical glue holding the arrangements together. She is definitely a jazz pianist now, and it may be just the power of suggestion hearing evidence of her classical training.
In Blooming Tall Phlox Eckemoff once again uses other media at her disposal and her discretion to bring her childhood to life. True to her classical-jazz impressionism, Eckemoff sees humanity in nature and objects of man-made construction. ..If music held the key to the spirits of loved ones, somehow Eckemoff has found a form of two-way communication. As in previous releases, she designed the album, she painted the cover of herself as a child amongst her beloved phlox, and she wrote the poems that glimpse even more of the feeling and thought behind the notes. The love notes themselves are vastly detailed, yet dreamy, dense yet ethereal, reflective yet enlightening, confident yet full of give and take — traits Eckemoff shares. This is an album to absorb in its entirety, from start to finish, with frequent browsing of the poetry and the art, a brief rumination of one’s own childhood memories and the possessions left behind. ..Yelena Eckemoff is a bandleader who uses every single resource exceptionally. Nothing ever goes to waste in her hands, either.
Yelena Eckemoff infuses more of her modern sense of jazz on yet another winning, personal reflection, set to music and art — all hers. ..Eckemoff tries to capture all of the senses through her music, artwork, and poetry, even the smell of the phlox. She goes to some pretty crazy places to get her points across. “Talks Over Hot Tea” nearly replicates the sound of the tea kettle on the boil in the tension and release of the horns toward the end. The horns figure heavily in the sense-memory of the music, which pushes the edgy in her take on modern jazz.
You really have to hand it to Eckemoff. She’s quickly managed to create an enviable body of work that blends post-modern abstraction, classical thought, and jazz language into a seamless whole. There’s a fearlessness in her art that’s not always addressed in discussions of her work. It’s not so easy to just dive into jazz when you’re further down life’s road, it’s certainly a challenge to try to match forces with some of the music’s giants shortly after taking the initial plunge, and it’s quite difficult to create original music that offers intelligent thought and surprise when you’re working under the aforementioned realities. Kudos to her for overcoming those obstacles.
It’s a 2-CD set and I found the “Winter Smells” side to be my favorite, with a beautiful combination of seven classical and jazz soaked songs reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” era. Verneri Pohjola adds lovely dynamics and mood to this audio treasure on trumpet and flugelhorn. Panu Savolainen’s stunning addition of xylophone throughout creates a textured or layered effects in the music, much like the painting on the cover; colorful and artistic. Ekemoff’s CD will be available January 20, 2017.