Yelena may be Russian by birth, and now American by residence, but you would not know that by the exotic tonalities expressed in this album. From the opening strains, and consistently voiced throughout, Yelena this time takes us to the desert climes of north Africa and the Middle East, where Arabic scales and rhythms reign supreme. …Dear Yelena: you gift us with your own pianistic depth and imagination; unceasing compositional creativity in formulating this genuinely compelling musical milieu; and completing it with a radical masterstroke of artistic team selection.
All four musicians are integral to Desert’s tapestries. Erskine is a wellspring of percussive imagination, Andersen unfailing, McCandless indispensable, and Eckemoff her usual attentive, supportive self. Though McCandless is the one most responsible for articulating the melodic character of a given piece, each player’s contributions are critical; in augmenting his drumming with percussion, for example, Erskine does much to help evoke the mystery of the Arabian locale (see “Oasis,” for example). Interplay is at a consistently high level, and solo episodes emerge naturally from the ensemble; Eckemoff favours slow to medium tempos, which also allows for a relaxed, loose feel that encourages improvisation and strengthens the impression of live interaction. In a typical piece, the musicians follow a road map of sorts that provides direction but that’s also not constricting creatively, and free episodes even in a few cases arise. While Desert is by default jazz, it also could be labeled World music for its aromatic fusion of Arabic music, jazz, and classical.
The music has a kind of Middle East feel and, of course, Andersen, Erskine and McCandless’s have unique contributions on this album. The meeting has become something special. Eckemoff is also a poet and visual artist and gives us a test of both through the cover booklet. The melodic and rhythmically exciting journey has something different about them.
Moscow-born pianist and composer Yelena Eckemoff has a vivid imagination – imagining her own view of the multi-faceted Middle Eastern desert into one of the year’s finest jazz concept recordings…The scope of the project and the delivery by this fine quartet are masterful.
As a fan dating back to Ms. Eckemoff’s early trio dates I have enjoyed listening to her steady progression as an artist, with each recording showcasing not just another facet of her diversity, but another layer of her incredible depth. Yelena is a seriously talented artist conceptually, compositionally and mechanically. As with each release before this one, I can only anxiously wonder what’s next? A must have.
There is no doubt that Eckemoff is a master in conceptual work and has been confirming it for many years. In the songs we can talk about represent a modern concept that draws on jazz traditions, free jazz, classical music, but quite often, in the context of the desert, we hear elements of the music of the distant east. As is the case with Eckemoff’s tradition, it follows the austere testimonies that have fewer notes, but through the colors and melodies they will tell a lot. Yelene Eckemoff with the famed quartet has captured life in the wilderness through an exceptional musical experience that you will not miss.
The pianist writes her very own jazz history, so to speak. ..Here she does not practice oriental jazz, but translates gentle, exotic tones into a harmonious framework. Her themes are capricious, her piano playing is more linear and winding than usual, the music has a beautiful flow, and the comrades-in-arms are three real fine spirits.
The Moscow pianist and composer Yelena Eckemoff is a real exception in the jazz scene. You can also witness it on her latest recording “Desert,” her imaginative compositions of Bedouins, dust storms and sand dunes. At her exciting Piano Jazz with Arabic influences, Yelena is accompanied by a top-class quartet of Paul McCandles (sax, horn, […]
The master-stroke is the inclusion of Paul McCandless. One feels fairly certain that this music may not have been anywhere near as successfully interpreted without his keening oboe and lonesome cor anglais. Add to that his masterful sojourns on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and you have one of the most eloquent performances on any kind of chamber work anywhere in the world today. No less magical is Peter Erskine, whose genius here – far-removed from the groove of his erstwhile associations – is firmly in the pocket as well as redolent of the undulating rhythms of walking camels, while Arild Andersen’s bass comes with a majestic stoicism all its own. Miss Eckemoff is at her best and in her grand, spacious pianism evokes the babbling voices of a souk dappled by the light and shade of the desert sun. Moreover, listened to in the warm acoustic of Rich Breen’s superb recording.
Yelena Eckemoff’s Desert goes beyond the tired tropes of camels, shifting sands, and that fabled oasis into the fevered imagination of a fictional man’s mind after all is lost. Again using her own prose and artwork, the classically trained Russian jazz pianist and composer brings together a core group of musicians and her densely complicated supernatural stories for an 11-track score.
The cumulative wisdom of the musicians simmers well throughout this enticing conceptual album, serving to translate complex compositions into traveler songs of sheer beauty and apparent facility…Never too smooth, never too aggressive, the album offers the possibility and the pleasure of discovering new places. The classy compositions presented here conjure up the great mystic of the desert. The music feels like finding a precious oasis.
McCandless’s oboe is notably evocative in that regard. Ms. Eckemoff’s own playing leads the way, harmonically and in depth of keyboard tone, as she establishes the album’s feeling of mystery and languor. Eckemoff’s concept is akin to that of many albums released on the ECM label over the years, making it a natural setting for bassist Andersen, often a leader of ECM sessions. Erskine’s percussion array allows him to generate colors beyond his customary mainstream palette.
In addition to the wonderful imaginative performance, this work is also noteworthy in the goodness of recording. Each musical instrument is recorded very realistically, I did not feel any excessive loudness at all, and I was knocked out just by the goodness of the sound. Since the sound of the Erskine’s solo drums in the first track, it gives me goose bumps. I will keep this as the best recording candidate this year.
Desert, inspired by Middle Eastern music, will invoke Debussy in spots and Brubeck and Bill Evans in others. Like Rimsky-Korsakov, Eckemoff absorbed aspects of Mid-East music in her compositions, much as Brubeck did with his Turkish-inflected classic “Blue Rondo a la Turk”- it’s most definitely jazz but Eastern/North African cultural “echoes” are vivid. Eckemoff’s style has the thickness of notes and compositional straightforwardness of Brubeck and the spare lyricism of Evans.
Her albums are usually organized around a theme. This one is unusual in having a musical style directly associated with it: so much of this program combines Arabic music with jazz, giving it a unique sound in her catalog. ..It sounds like the group has taken a journey together—and it’s a pleasure to come along for the ride as a listener.
“Desert” is a beautiful conceptual album that takes us to the heated desert sands, which we traverse in the jazz caravan of great artists. The cortege follows the path set by the unique, one of its kind, artist, and the music heard is illustrated by beautiful essays included in the album booklet. ..In “Desert” we also get to know the less humble nature of Yelena Eckemoff, leading us with her music into regions of more advanced improvisation, rubbing against solutions of proper free jazz.
Every album Eckemoff releases is a good entry point to a body of work that is both increasingly diverse and inimitably personal, and the highly recommended Desert is no exception. But with her longstanding relationships with Andersen and Erskine bolstered by a particularly evocative first encounter with the ever-impressive McCandless, Desert may well be the best – and broadest – of her dozen recordings made since 2010’s Cold Sun.
Deeply penetrating into matter, closely intertwined by the high-class playing of the band, one experiences a drama that moves between the poles of silence and restlessness, endowed with melancholy and delicate romanticism. Once again, Yelena Eckemoff has succeeded in presenting her musical theme excellently creating tension that links elements of classical music and folklore with jazz.
The team creates soft impressions of mystique on pieces like “Mirage” and the caravan-like “Dance” which has Erskine on hand percussion while Eckemoff is delicate on the gentle “Garden of Eden.” McCandless’ clarinet creates a Mid East mood on the lurking “Bedouins” and he takes you to Monument Valley with Eckemoff’s crystal touch on “Dust Storm.” A journey through exotic sands that shift with the wind.
The arrangements are succinct and crisply executed. Drummer Erskine gives a masterclass in elevating the music throughout, in the way that Paul Motian always did, with a distinctively different approach. Eckemoff’s compositions have a characteristic refinement, their accessible complexities woven through by McCandless’ sinewy melodic lines from his oboe, English horn, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet. And a bonus—Eckemoff’s prose and poetry included in the twenty-plus page cover booklet that adds a vocabulary to her musical ideas. She is proving herself as fine a writer as she is a musician on this excellent work of art.
At times dissonant, but overwhelmingly melodic, this is current jazz at the highest level of both sophistication and visceral imagery. The seamless mix of all the musical influences in her life makes Eckemoff’s music simply extraordinary. Highly recommended.
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….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.
It is nice to be surprised by sounds – and yet it has become rare even in a versatile music such as jazz. The virtuoso Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff, who has been living in the USA for many years, succeeds in surprises organically, because she developed her music in an unusual way.
Review: Eckemoff returns with another stellar group excursion, this time to the middle eastern desert. It is interesting to listen to instruments that are not from the region create music that evokes the region anyway. She has a new group of all-stars along for the journey, as well. In addition to establishing a dialog between […]
On her most impressive date yet, Eckemoff corrals these cats into helping her cross the impressionistic desert she has sound painted here. The crew brings a great synchronicity to the proceedings turning in a date not to be missed by fans of anyone on board. A most righteous work throughout where everyone gets to play to their fullest.
Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff has now reached her quarterly release cycle with the album Desert. Amazing is not only the consistently high quality of her CD’s, but also the prominent contributors. This time Oregon oboist Paul McCandless, Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen and US veteran Peter Erskine are on the drums. Together they play eleven Eckemoff originals, which are characterized by beautiful, sometimes oriental melodies (therefore perhaps also the album title) and by virtuosic fluency.