One of my favorite albums of 2020 so far is Yelena Eckemoff’s Nocturnal Animals (16/44.1 FLAC, L&H Production/Tidal).
If you desire to focus on the individual creatures and experience how they realized in music you can do exactly that. Or you can simply be entertained and relaxed just enjoying the lyrical mood of this four-headed trio, to its perfect interplay between the classical piano, the smooth-styled bass and the rhythmic work of the two drummers. Open your hearts to enjoy delicate and noble elements of this music! As the matter of fact, this music has also a typical “ECM sound” and I am curious whether or when Manfred Eicher would desire to produce a record with Yelena Eckemoff.
…she creates a very original atmosphere, in some tracks – angular and conspicuous, as in “Hedgehog”, in some others tracks – more liquid, in every case enriching the musical panorama for her listeners. This is very nice record, and as soon as you connect to Yelena’s music, these two CDs quickly flow from first track to the last.
I enjoyed listening to Eckemoff’s musical drawing. I liked its dramatic expression. While listening, it takes you for a stroll through the forest of fairy tales, which is dark, mysterious but never scary. Also, in this live-playing album, it is a pleasure to hear the musicians really listen to each other as well as their technical mastery.
The piano is careening but delicate, the bandleader’s right-hand runs occasionally a tad busy. Ultimately, though, Nocturnal Animals is relatively light entertainment, with no grand spiritual or social intentions. It’s just one skilled composer thinking about animals, how they act and what they might think. It’s a fine exercise, and well executed.
The sounds include an swinging bass and drums for the hip line of “Lynx” with some abstract floating on “Firefly.” “Wolf” is a crystalline delight with piano and bass sparkling and pianistic reflections glisten on “Walkingstick.” There is a floating feel to “Sea” turtle and you can feel the hooting on “Owl” and rich harmonies on “Hedgehog.” A Saint Francis of sounds.
After a half dozen listens the first disc has all gelled together in my head and how beautiful it is, I cannot count the ways. As per an earlier observation, it’s almost impossible, particularly with Yelena’s piano to tell what is composed and what is improvised which says a huge amount about the quality of both the composition and the improvisation.
Once again, jazz pianist and virtuoso Yelena Eckemoff has created a feast for our ears, with this feast taking place at night and in the wild. ..Don’t be surprised, when you get it, to find yourself in Yelena’s forest for many an escape. A higher recommendation I could not make, and Nocturnal Animals leaves me breathless to hear what realm she conquers next.
Eckemoff’s albums, as a leader, continue to find creative avenues of expression and orchestrations. Eckemoff’s compositions have always put her in a special place in the jazz world, and now, Nocturnal Animals is starting to mark her as a serious pianist too. A unique project and worth a listen.
The release machinery of Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff rolls and rolls – you always wonder when she finds time to record her two or three albums a year…Eckemoff deals with the mysterious and atmospheric structures of the “Scorpion, makes the “Fox” swing and creates gripping suspense with the “Bat.” Enjoyed in small portions, pieces like the majestic “Sea Turtle” develop a magical pull, but when heard as a whole, “Nocturnal Animals” is a bit too much of a good thing.
Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff is predictably unpredictable. …This album and the previous duet recording both place Eckemoff the pianist on the same plane as Eckemoff the composer, proof that the two sides of her musical life are closer together than they appear. Nocturnal Animals presents a unique perspective on both.
Each new Yelena Eckemoff release immediately becomes my favourite, so Nocturnal Animals is my favourite for now. Consider the sterling pianism, double bass virtuosity and quirky dual drum kit setup (when is a piano trio not a trio?). Consider the allure of Eckemoff’s compositions, replete with accessible themes yet rich in intricate incidental detail. Consider the artisanal charm of L & H Production’s CD packaging, which reproduces not only all fourteen creature poems but also an aptly moonlit landscape painting (likewise the pianist’s own work). And consider the sound of this recording, engineered by one of the late greats to capture the music with clinical clarity and ambient warmth. What’s not to love?! Across two discs, Nocturnal Animals assembles an embarrassment of riches. When your speakers spill forth this binaural bounty, you may well find a new favourite of your own.
Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen brilliantly decorate each song with various ornaments, evoking associations with, for example, cicadas or a rattlesnake crawling on the grass…In turn, the double bass by Arild Andersen perfectly reflects the character of the fox walking stealthily at night in the forest undergrowth or the monumental character of the predatory bear…Everything is dominated by wonderful piano parts, full of singing melody and peculiar magic specific to Eckemoff.
…A concept album that provides deep insights into the thinking and soul of Yelena Eckemoff. ..She can touch magically on her instrument, she can act powerfully, or float impressionistically over the keyboard; she knows how to decorate melodic miniatures or formulate brooding thoughts pianistically, or use individual notes to set exclamation points. ..The pianist has the lighthouse among the European bassists, Arild Andersen at her side. …Christensen and Stronen play the edges of the music excellently. They make use of the open spaces that the music offers them, or they create them themselves by applying a nuanced sensitivity instead of power struggle.
Eckemoff’s tunes are complex and multi-dimensional; they reflect her substantial classical training, as well as her love for folk and sacred music, expressed in painstakingly annotated compositions, syncopation, and improvisation. ..14 quartet pieces range across the spectrum without forsaking an implied intimacy that always engages her listeners immediately. ..Nocturnal Animals is supplemented by Eckemoff’s evocative free verse; her poetry allows these pieces to enter the world directly, in a variety of sonic dialects. Nocturnal Animals reveals Eckemoff in a heightened state of jazz discovery; it edifies, questions, and ultimately illumines the inherent darkness, mystery, and spirituality of the natural world.
Yelena Eckemoff fügt mit Nocturnal Animals ein weiteres Element in ihre Reihe von durchdachten Konzeptalben ein. Getreu seinem Titel enthält das Doppelalbum 14 musikalische Eindrücke von den Geschöpfen, die die Nacht beherrschen. Die Stücke werden von einem Quartett zum Leben erweckt, das Eckemoff neben dem Bassisten Arild Andersen und den Schlagzeugern Jon Christensen und Thomas Strønen platziert.
Russian-born pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff is known for blending Russian romanticism with the American jazz tradition. Nocturnal Animals is the latest in a long line of spellbinding concept albums that have rightly been defined as sonic portrait galleries.
Eckemoff is a truly remarkable artist, one possessing a seemingly bottomless well of energy and ideas (Nocturnal Animals is apparently her fifteenth release in ten years). In featuring her playing, compositions, artwork, and poetry, this latest collection testifies to the incredible creative resources she consistently draws upon and makes the release, eighty-seven explorative minutes in total, resonate all the more memorably for being so personalized. …Her classical background lends her playing a dignified and subtly aristocratic (though not stuffy) quality, while her love for jazz infuses it with an insistent rhythmic flow. She’s no maximalist intent on overwhelming the listener with a barrage of notes, but neither is she a minimalist. Her playing appears as an imaginative stream of invention that gives her partners ample material to respond to. She and Andersen act as a tag-team of sorts, the bassist shadowing her and assuming a prominent role as both melodist and soloist. Nocturnal Animals is also elevated by the Christensen-Strønen combination. Rather than adding excessive density, the two generate a rich array of drums, cymbals, and percussion sounds. Without putting too fine a point on it, Strønen provides a deferential, clutter-free foundation which Christensen adds to with tom-tom accents and cymbal flourishes. The cumulative result is a multi-layered music where multiple things are happening at once, and the listener is never less than engaged.
Eckemoff pens complex tunes which reflect her classical training and, at the same time, seem to have a feeling of a folk music direction. The sound her bandmates create alongside Eckemoff is subtle, shimmering, translucently gorgeous, featuring Eckemoff displaying her most delicate touch. Bassist Andersen is typically muscular—the backbone of the band—while drummers Christensen and Stronen weave and counter-weave backdrops of diaphanous fabric—a tapestry of spider webs. Through her boundless ambition, determination and expansive talent, Eckemoff has turned herself into a major jazz artist with a consistently outstanding discography all on her own L & H Production label.
The number of beats with which the Russian pianist knocks out her albums is always astonishing. Eckemoff loves themed albums and has therefore supplemented “Nocturnal Animals” with poems about such animals that can be read in the CD booklet… The majestic “Toad” sets a monument to the toad in the jazz context for the first time… With her top-class band, Eckemoff achieves atmospheric, mostly well-paced chamber pieces that bear witness to their overflowing ingenuity.
Nocturnal Animals plays small, in quiet, stealthy patter. The choice to go with double-bassist Andersen, who’s appeared on several of her past works, and two drummers, Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen, blends well with the heartbeat of these animals that humans sense more often than see, and often, with fear and trepidation, if not wonder. ..As Eckemoff lights this gradual ascent from darkness, she touches the eternal and the earthly with renewed purpose.
Nobody can ever accuse Eckemoff of not being ambitious. She has taken us a lot of different places over the course of her career so far and this time she takes us impressionistically into the world of nocturnal animals spreading the work over two discs… She doesn’t have to try hard to take her piano to new places but she certainly extends her reach here.
Her first jazz album, “Cold Sun”, with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine, was recorded in 2009, and that Manfred Eicher of ECM did not pick her up there and then, may well be considered a mistake by the German. She has always been concerned with the ingenious and a bit strange in nature, which is perhaps why her relationship with the Nordic countries is so strong.