Moscow-born, classically trained pianist Yelena Eckemoff displays multiple and multimedia talents on this double-disc release: she composed all the music, wrote poems, reprinted in the accompanying booklet, corresponding to each of the 14 tracks, and created the painting that features on the album cover. ..It’s a charming, smartly executed suite of music, strong on atmospheric scene-setting and shimmering, impressionistic detail, with plenty of beguiling melodic material.
Lions” is another step forward in the career of an exceptional artist whose reputation gets better with each successive album, aspiring to the title of one of the most interesting jazz pianists overseas. Even before the release of this album the trio Yelena Eckemoff had an opportunity to present the program at the famous New York jazz club Birdland, meeting with an exceptionally warm welcome. In the music filling the album, besides her beautiful soul, we find also what is so difficult to achieve in many piano trios, namely to achieve the perfect balance between compromise convincing composition and structure of the loose interaction and improvisation. Interpretations artfully prepared for the album composition, extensive use of color and texture, making them extremely easy to read and full of space. A wonderful album!
Sphinx is one of Eckemoff’s loveliest creations, yet the protagonist is locked in an unbearable limbo. “What use is it for me to be immortal if I am a stone statue?” she asks. There is a rare vigour to Joining the Pride, in which the lioness is buoyed by the support of her partner, but in an unexpected twist the lion is usurped by a younger model (“Oh my changing heart!”) Towards the end – during Ode to Innocence – the lioness asserts that “I am free from guilt,” and in the concluding Ode to Strength the storyteller is returned – again on a flock of birds – to the human world. She cannot surrender her other incarnation completely, and retains the lioness’s heart. It’s a charming concept, and very beautifully played.
As I sit and listen to LIONS for the first time I cannot help but think to myself, “How does an artist continually sound fresh, continually add new flavors to the music and continue to create a completely ethereal and all-enveloping soundstage?” Yelena is one such artist. With every release, and this one is an oft wished for two-disc set, she paints a number of smaller pictures that come together as a priceless larger one. LIONS, and even though it almost seems impossible, finds me certain that Yelena has topped herself yet again.
Yelena Eckemoff Trio’s Lions is a long but comprehensive look at animals in the wild with human touches, a classical-jazz soundtrack that goes beyond the superficial, intermission grabs for attention and seeks out the feelings beneath the eerily accurate movements. For the most part, Eckemoff more than survives the wild; she civilizes it.
Lions sounds like Yelena Eckemoff letting go, following her muse with a focused fervor. The music—structured gorgeousness in the embrace of the improvisational elan of Andersen and Hart—is Yelena’s strongest statement to date, a flawless and beguiling work of art.