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ROMANCE OF THE MOON press release, March 18, 2024


Pianist-composer-conceptualist Yelena Eckemoff tries something a little bit different—but no less cerebral and audacious—with Romance of the Moon, set for a May 10 release on her own L&H Production label. Always a multimedia thinker, Eckemoff has previously made albums that incorporate her visual art as well as stories, poems, and concepts from her own imagination. This time, she presents a suite of compositions inspired by the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, as interpreted by the formidable Italian ensemble that includes bassist Luca Bulgarelli, drummer Stefano Bagnoli, guitarist Riccardo Bertuzzi, and world-renowned trumpet icon Paolo Fresu.


If this seems a departure from projects like Eckemoff’s 2023 effort Lonely Man and His Fish, based on her narrative of a human-pet relationship, or 2021’s Adventures of the Wildflower, tracing the life of a single plant, that’s because it is. Romance of the Moon has more in common with Eckemoff’s diptych of albums based on the biblical Psalms, 2018’s Better Than Gold and Silver and 2022’s I Am a Stranger in This World. Those, however, were written as vocal settings (albeit performed without vocalists). These new compositions were conceived, written, and executed as instrumental music.


That’s not to say, however, that Eckemoff’s pieces are any less tightly intertwined with the Lorca poems that inspired them. In fact, the composer went so far as to translate the texts into Italian so that her sidemen “would know exactly what every composition is about,” she says. “That’s how important it was that they know exactly what the poem says. These are instrumentals, but the music still corresponds to the poems.” She translated them again, into English, for the listener’s reference.


Based though it is in poetry, Romance of the Moon nonetheless has a dramatic sweep. This occurs on the level of the individual tracks—as with Fresu’s taut, suspenseful trumpet line on “Barren Orange Tree” and Bertuzzi’s carefully developing guitar solo on “Old Lizard”—and across the full album, building from the reflective opener “Bells” to the moody crest of the title track, then to the evocative, satisfying resolution of “August.” Like Lorca and other great poets, Eckemoff thoroughly understands the importance of form, both macro and micro.


Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four. By seven, she was attending the Gnessins School for musically gifted children, eventually matriculating at Moscow State Conservatory to study classical piano.


In her early twenties, Eckemoff found herself drawn to jazz—at a time when the music, or at least recordings of it, were a rare commodity in the then-Soviet Union. Soon, however, came Dave Brubeck’s groundbreaking 1987 concert in Moscow, which for Eckemoff was definitive. Jazz, she then knew, was where her destiny lay.


Of course, any thorough immersion in jazz had to be done in the United States, where Eckemoff immigrated in 1991 and settled in North Carolina. Not only did the move entrench her in the land that gave birth to jazz, but it gave her easier access to players who could do justice to her intricate ideas.

Finding those players was no easy task. Finally, though, a MySpace encounter with Danish bassist Mads Vinding—combined with a bold through-the-mail contact with drummer Peter Erskine—yielded her 2010 breakthrough, the album Cold Sun. Her subsequent collaborators have included Marilyn Mazur (Forget-Me-Not); Arild Andersen and Billy Hart (Lions); Mark Turner, Joe Locke, and George Mraz (A Touch of Radiance); Mark Feldman (Leave Everything Behind); Chris Potter and Gerald Cleaver (In the Shadow of a Cloud); Ralph Alessi (Better Than Gold and Silver, I Am a Stranger in This World); and, on 2023’s Lonely Man and His Fish, Kirk Knuffke, Masaru Koga, Ben Street, and Eric Harland.

Romance of the Moon is Eckemoff’s first encounter with Fresu, Bulgarelli, Bertuzzi, and Bagnoli. “In jazz, the project is only finished when recorded with jazz musicians,” she explains. “I design each project for them to be able to express themselves.” Disciplined and free, these musicians inhabit Eckemoff’s beguiling themes with the distilled intensity of Lorca’s poems.  

LONELY MAN AND HIS FISH bio, Feb. 27, 2023

If Yelena Eckemoff knows all about the revelatory power of narrative, it’s because her own story is so unlikely and inspiring. Since the release of her first concept album in 2010, the conservatory-trained Russian-born pianist has carved out a singular niche with an extraordinary, expansive body of programmatic compositions shaped by European classical music and jazz’s expressive interplay. Working from her home in rural North Carolina, the astonishingly prolific composer has connected with a diverse pool of master improvisers, supplying them with music requiring rarefied storytelling skills. A brilliant new cast of players bring her musical tale vividly to life on her18th release, the double album Lonely Man and His Fish (L & H Production).
With Eckemoff on piano, Rhodes, and vintage Ampli-celeste, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, redoubtable bassist Ben Street, drummer extraordinaire Eric Harland, and Masaru Koga on shakuhachi and other flutes, Lonely Man and His Fish traces an elegantly simple story that unfolds with the evocative power of a parable. On the surface, it’s an oft-told tale. Man meets fish. Man loses fish. Fish and man are reunited. But in the musical realm of Eckemoff, who’s also a poet and graphic artist responsible for the album’s striking cover art, seemingly simple stories reveal both the numinous glow of everyday life and our spiritual ties to the natural world. Like her previous projects, Lonely Man and His Fish is a triumph of casting, with the titular roles interpreted by unmistakable instrumentalists.
The prolific Knuffke is a cornetist sought out by a wide array of creative musicians looking for an improviser equally fluent in inside and outside settings. As a leader and co-leader, he’s recorded several dozen albums that have earned him numerous awards and honors. He brings the soul and inner spirit of the Lonely Man to life with empathetic warmth and concentrated feeling, subtly portraying melancholy, affection, remorse, anxiety, and joy without a hint of sentimentality. His aqueous companion is beautifully rendered by Koga, a player who has been gaining recognition on the New York scene since relocating from the San Francisco Bay Area three years ago. A saxophonist and flutist who was born in Japan and grew up moving between Europe and the United States, Koga is best known for his work with veteran Bay Area drummer Akira Tana’s Otonowa, a group that has honed a gorgeous repertoire of jazz settings for traditional and popular Japanese melodies. 
Eckemoff knew she wanted the Fish to be portrayed by the Japanese end-blown bamboo shakuhachi, and was drawn to Koga’s playing by his command of jazz idioms. “Other players were way more traditional,” she says. “He’s more of a jazz player. I was thinking about my story and I heard the Lonely Man represented by cornet, and the Fish by the flute, but I wanted Japanese flute. Masaru played shakuhachi and also a regular Western flute with an attachment that made it sound Japanese. I wanted that sound, not clarinet, not saxophone.” 
Eckemoff’s liner notes detail the narrative that guides the music. A recently retired orchestra player salves his isolation by purchasing a fish that he dubs Spark. They delight in each other’s companionship until a bicycle accident puts the man in the hospital, setting in motion a chain of events that ends up with Spark, unbeknownst to the man, taking up residence in a nearby pond. The man’s trumpet playing facilitates a reunion, returning his lost Spark. It’s a sweet story that speaks to our isolation, our longing for connection, and maybe our search for faith while lost out in the stars. 
What makes Eckemoff’s tale so effective is that her music carefully observes and comments on the events and feelings with a light, affectionate touch. From the opening track, “Lonely Man,” the story unfolds with sly observations that seem tailormade for Knuffke: “There is playfulness, a lightness in his playing. It was a perfect fit.” 
Almost every piece could be played independently. The whimsical “Breakfast for Two” feels like it could be a theme for a remake of The Odd Couple (one of jazz’s great texturalists, Harland plays with translucent acuity throughout). But like most of her concept albums, she designed the project with a cohesive flow and sequence.
“At first I get an idea about a project, whether it’s stages of life, colors, smells, or animals,” Eckemoff says. “I’m looking for the frame, the concept. I did Cold Sun about early spring and late winter and Everblue about the ocean. It becomes my world for the duration of the project, like when you read a long novel. Once I get an idea, I don’t write out the story before the music. I have the story worked out in my head. When I compose, I already know how the story is going to come out.”
No one could have guessed how Eckemoff’s story would turn out given her early trajectory. Born in Moscow in 1962, she was a musical prodigy who began playing piano and composing at the age of four tutored by her mother, a noted piano teacher. By seven she was studying at the prestigious Gnessins Academy with Anna Pavlovna Kantor, whose other students included Evgeny Kissin. Eckemoff went on to the elite Moscow Conservatory as a young teen, but her musical curiosity eventually propelled her off the classical path. Enamored by Pink Floyd, she started dissecting prog rock, and became smitten with jazz when she attended Dave Brubeck’s famous 1987 Moscow concert. “And then I was studying jazz in the experimental Moscow Jazz studio,” she says. “So that’s how I was educating myself.”
Teaching and composing, she and her husband carved out a comfortable niche, but seeking more opportunities they decided to emigrate to the U.S. with their three children in 1991 as the Soviet Union started to disintegrate. A long, arduous process eventually found the family reunited in North Carolina, where she started to build a new life playing occasional concerts, teaching music, and working as a church musician. Frustrated by the uninspired level of local jazz talent, she eventually connected with veteran Danish bassist Mads Vinding via his MySpace page where he offered his services to fellow musicians. Thrilled with the results, she sent the overdubbed duo recording to drum legend Peter Erskine in Los Angeles. Duly impressed by her music, he added his contribution, which is how her breakout 2010 concept album Cold Sun was created. 
She was off and running. Later that year she released Grass Catching the Wind working remotely with Vinding and Danish drummer Morten Lund, and the live session Flying Steps, featuring Erskine and first-call LA-based Polish bassist Darek Oles. She’s produced at least one album a year since then, working with the finest improvisers in Europe and the U.S., leading to critically hailed albums such as 2014’s A Touch of Radiance with Mark Turner, Joe Locke, George Mraz, and Billy Hart, and 2017’s In the Shadow of a Cloud with Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Drew Gress, and Gerald Cleaver. 
“It is how an avalanche starts,” Eckemoff says about her ever-expanding creative community. “You make a snowball and throw it down. It rolls down gathering more and more snow, and before you know there is a mass of snow, ice, and rocks falling rapidly down a mountainside.” 
The rock supporting all of Eckemoff’s expression is her faith, which she brought to the fore on 2016’s Better Than Gold and Silver, a double album featuring her vocal and instrumental settings for 10 Psalms. She returned to the Bible in 2022 with I Am a Stranger in This World featuring Ralph Alessi, Drew Gress, Adam Rogers, and Nasheet Waits in a program of gospel-inflected instrumental settings for another selection of Psalms. 
Whether a project is driven by a narrative or not, “every album I do is conceptual,” Eckemoff says. “I’ve been composing music since I was four. I don’t even try. Tunes come to me. Sometimes it’s too much. God created me like that. That’s why I don’t perform that much, and don’t want to perform anymore. I have so much to compose. And in the genre I compose, the project is only finished when recorded with jazz musicians. I design the project for them to be able to express themselves.”
With Lonely Man and His Fish, Eckemoff has expanded an already capacious creative universe. Knuffke, Koga, Street, and Harland are amongst jazz’s most prolific recording artists, but interpreting her music reveals previously unheard wrinkles in their instrumental personalities. Joining in the telling of her story, they’ve added a new chapter to their own, which is the sure sign of a great jazz composer. •


I AM S STRANGER IN THIS WORLD press release, Feb. 17, 2022


Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff adds to her already impressive corpus of settings for the Psalms on I Am a Stranger in This World, due for a May 20 release on her own L&H Production label. The album is a new installment in a long-term musical project that began with 2018’s Better Than Gold and Silver, and once again teams Eckemoff with that album’s trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Drew Gress, along with guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nasheet Waits. (Violinist Christian Howes—with Ben Monder and Joey Baron also in lieu of Rogers and Waits, respectively—also appears on three holdover tracks from Better Than Gold and Silver.)
Eckemoff converted to Christianity while still living in her native Moscow during the waning days of the Soviet Union: a time when to be Christian was still a dangerous transgression. Her new faith, along with a hard-to-procure King James Bible, combined with her pedigree in classical and jazz piano to inspire a celebration of the Old Testament’s wisdom and poetry.
Eckemoff, however, finds more than just inspiration in the Psalms. “I am a melodist, but the melodies that come from the words I hear in the Psalms, I think they are the best melodies I create,” she says. “And I think it’s because there’s a power in those words…. You can feel the power that God channels through that music.”
Of course, the musicians working with Eckemoff channel power of their own. I Am a Stranger in This World was recorded during the 2020 pandemic, and there’s a palpable passion from Alessi, Gress, Rogers, and Waits simply to be making music again. But that alone doesn’t account for the tenderness of Rogers’s lines on “As Chaff Before the Wind” (a setting of Psalm 35), the soul in Alessi’s soft fills on “I Shall Not Want” (from the famous Psalm 23), or the full band chemistry of “Keep Not Your Silence” (Psalm 83).
“Eckemoff’s new Psalms settings display an expanded stylistic range,” writes CD annotator Mark Sullivan. “Who knew that Psalms could sound like blues? ‘I Shall Not Want’ embraces the vibrant blues feeling [as does] ‘Lighten My Eyes.’ . . . Here for the first time on her jazz recordings her keyboards are expanded beyond acoustic piano to include organ on ‘Keep Not Your Silence,’ Fender Rhodes electric piano on ‘Truth in His Heart’ and ‘The Wine of Astonishment,’ as well as some synthesizers on ‘At Midnight I Will Rise’ and ‘Like Rain Upon the Mown Grass,’ subtly broadening the group’s timbral palette.”
Although Eckemoff first wrote these settings as vocal features, there are no singers on I Am a Stranger in This World. Instead, she offers her purely instrumental interpretations of the Psalms, titling each with a line from the appropriate Biblical verse and citing each Psalm for the listener to read and draw connections to the music—and perhaps to their own ideas about faith in a higher power.
Eckemoff is no evangelist, but her work with the Psalms does offer an important message to the world. “There is some higher power,” she says. “Even the people who don’t believe in God but have faith in government or in society or humanity—well, the government or society or humanity is the higher power. Something greater than themselves. My message is that people can overcome fears and insecurities and trust in a higher power.”
Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four. She would go on to study classical piano the most prestigious music academies in Russia: the Gnessins School for musically gifted children, followed by the Moscow State Conservatory.
Gradually, however, Eckemoff’s ears wandered beyond her classical training, discovering first rock, then jazz. When she saw Dave Brubeck’s performance in Moscow in 1987, she settled on jazz as her permanent musical path.
That path turned out to run through the United States, where Eckemoff immigrated in 1991 and settled in North Carolina. Now ensconced in the country that gave birth to jazz, she went in search of players who could do justice to her intricate ideas.
The search was a long and sometimes frustrating one, but it paid off when she was able to work with the likes of bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine on her 2010 album Cold Sun. Later collaborators have included Mark Turner, Joe Locke, George Mraz, Peter Erskine, Manu Katché, Billy Hart, Chris Potter, Jon Christensen, and Joey Baron, along with Alessi, Gress, Rogers, and Waits. Her unique, sophisticated, and highly expressive music continues to draw support and creative energy from the finest musicians in the world.


ADVENTURES OF THE WILDFLOWER press release, December 7, 2020

Yelena Eckemoff Intensifies Her Conceptual Approach to Music with "Adventures of the Wildflower," Set for March 19 Release

With her latest conceptual gem, “Adventures of the Wildflower,” Russian-born pianist and composer Yelena Eckemoff reaches her highest pinnacle yet of originality and personal expression. The two-disc set, recorded in Helsinki with a superb Finnish ensemble, tells the heartwarming story of Columbine (named after the flower) from germination through her final time on earth, and includes poems and illustrations by Eckemoff herself that provide personal “accompaniment” to the music.

Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff unfurls her most elaborate and ambitious musical work yet with “Adventures of the Wildflower,” which her own L&H Production label will release on March 19, 2021. As its title suggests, the double album is the story of a life, from birth to death (and rebirth), of an anthropomorphic columbine flower. Its story is told through the inspired work of Eckemoff and a Finnish ensemble that includes saxophonist Jukka Perko, multi-instrumentalist Jarmo Saari, vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, bassist Antti Lötjönen, and drummer-percussionist Olavi Louhivuori.

Long a conceptualist, Eckemoff has previously tended to craft albums of thematically linked but discrete pieces. “Adventures of the Wildflower,” however, functions as a single narrative. The flower—aptly named Columbine—undertakes a vivid journey, growing from baby to mature plant as she observes from her garden spot the whirl of nature and of life, plant and animal, around her. She even learns to communicate with her garden mates, a real phenomenon that inspired Eckemoff to create the album when she read about it in a magazine.

“I was intrigued to learn that plants communicate with each other through the air, by releasing odorous chemicals, and through the soil, by secreting soluble chemicals,” she says. “Such communal life sparked my imagination. I started to envision how a single plant would feel being part of such an interconnected community and how it would react to its neighbors who lived next to it. Soon I had a kernel of an idea about a wildflower.”

Eckemoff supplements the original music with an 18-part narrative poem (one part for each composition) that tells Columbine’s story. While nuanced, the narrative is built on an earnest simplicity, like a children’s story. The music, on the other hand, is much more complex. The multiple levels of melody in “Home by the Fence” or “Children Playing with Seed Pods” are sumptuous feasts for both the ear and the intellect, while pieces like “Chickens,” “Butterflies,” and “Another Winter” are filled with experimental, even psychedelic, textures.

Credit for these soundscapes must go as well to the musicians who work with Eckemoff. The sounds Saari conjures from his guitars, theremin, and glass harp lend the music a unique palette, augmented by the bold, unconventional playing of Perko, Savolainen, Lötjönen, and Louhivuori. “They were fearless in approaching my extensive lead sheets,” the pianist affirms. In Adventures of the Wildflower that fearlessness has, like Columbine, blossomed into a splendid and very alive specimen of its own.

Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four. By seven, she was attending the Gnessins School for musically gifted children, eventually matriculating at Moscow State Conservatory to study classical piano.

In her twenties, Eckemoff found herself drawn to jazz—at a time when the music, or at least recordings of it, were a rare commodity in the then-Soviet Union. Yet an appearance by Dave Brubeck behind the Iron Curtain reinforced her newfound love of the music and shaped her creative path thenceforth.

That path turned out to run through the United States, where Eckemoff immigrated in 1991 and settled in North Carolina. Now ensconced in the country that gave birth to jazz, she went in search of players who could do justice to her intricate ideas.

The search was a long and sometimes frustrating one, but it paid off when she was able to work with the likes of bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine on her 2010 album “Cold Sun.” Later collaborators have included projects with Mark Turner, Joe Locke, Ralph Alessi, Billy Hart, Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Joey Baron, Arild Andersen, and Jon Christensen, the Norwegian drum great whose final recording was on Eckemoff’s 2020 release “Nocturnal Animals.”

With “Adventures of the Wildflower,” Eckemoff wanted to make an offering of positivity to her adopted country. “I was moved to make this record as my answer to our turbulent times,” she says. “I believe that nothing is more important than for all earthly beings to find a way to live together peacefully, next to each other in the same community. Characters of my story may have disagreements with each other, but in the end, they always find a way to coexist together on the same plot of land.”

er Yelena Eckemoff reaches her highest pinnacle yet of originality and personal expression. The two-disc set, recorded in Helsinki with a superb Finnish ensemble, tells the heartwarming story of Columbine (named after the flower) from germination through her final time on earth, and includes poems and illustrations by Eckemoff herself that provide personal “accompaniment” to the music.

Press Release in Germany:

Die Pianistin und Komponistin Yelena Eckemoff entfaltet ihr bisher aufwändigstes und ambitioniertestes musikalisches Werk mit Abenteuer der Wildblume, das ihr eigenes Label L&H Production am 19. März 2021 veröffentlicht. Wie der Titel schon andeutet, ist das Doppelalbum die Geschichte eines Lebens, von der Geburt bis zum Tod (und der Wiedergeburt), einer anthropomorphen Akelei-Blüte. Seine Geschichte wird durch die inspirierte Arbeit von Eckemoff und einem finnischen Ensemble erzählt, dem der Saxophonist Jukka Perko, der Multiinstrumentalist Jarmo Saari, der Vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, der Bassist Antti Lötjönen und der Schlagzeuger und Perkussionist Olavi Louhivuori angehören.

Nachdem sie zuvor mit Savolainen, Lötjönen und Louhivuori an ihrem 2017 erschienenen Album Blooming Tall Phlox gearbeitet hatte, wollte sie unbedingt nach Helsinki zurückkehren, um wieder mit ihnen aufzunehmen. Das tat sie im Sommer 2019 mit zwei hoch angesehenen Finnen: dem Gitarristen Saari und dem Saxophonisten Jukka Perko, der einen Staffelstab des Trompeters Verneri Pohjola übernahm.

Eckemoff, der lange Zeit eine Konzeptualistin war, neigte früher dazu, Alben mit thematisch zusammenhängenden, aber eigenständigen Stücken zu erstellen. Adventures of the Wildflower fungiert jedoch als eine einzige Erzählung. Die Blume mit dem treffenden Namen Columbine unternimmt eine lebhafte Reise während des Wachstums, indem sie von ihrem Garten aus den Wirbel der Natur und des Lebens, der Pflanzen und Tiere, um sich herum beobachtet. Sie lernt sogar, mit ihren Gartenfreunden zu kommunizieren, ein echtes Phänomen, das Eckemoff zu diesem Album inspirierte, als sie in einer Zeitschrift darüber las.

“Ich war fasziniert zu erfahren, dass Pflanzen über die Luft miteinander kommunizieren, indem sie geruchsintensive Chemikalien freisetzen, und über den Boden, indem sie lösliche Chemikalien absondern”, sagt sie. “Solch ein Gemeinschaftsleben beflügelte meine Phantasie. Ich begann mir vorzustellen, wie sich eine einzelne Pflanze als Teil einer solchen vernetzten Gemeinschaft fühlen würde und wie sie auf ihre Nachbarn, die neben ihr lebten, reagieren würde. Bald hatte ich ein Körnchen einer Idee über eine Wildblume.”

Eckemoff ergänzt ihre Originalmusik durch ein 18-teiliges erzählerisches Gedicht (ein Teil für jede Komposition), das die Geschichte von Columbine erzählt. Obwohl nuanciert, ist die Erzählung auf einer ernsthaften Einfachheit aufgebaut, wie eine Kindergeschichte. Die Musik hingegen ist viel komplexer. Die verschiedenen Melodieebenen in “Home by the Fence” oder “Children Playing with Seed Pods” sind sowohl für das Ohr als auch für den Intellekt ein prächtiges Fest, während Stücke wie “Chickens”, “Butterflies” und “Another Winter” mit experimentellen, sogar psychedelischen Texturen gefüllt sind.

Das Verdienst für diese Klangwelten gebührt auch den Musikern, die mit Eckemoff zusammenarbeiten. Die Klänge, die Saari aus seinen Gitarren, dem Theremin und der Glasharfe zaubert, verleihen der Musik eine einzigartige Palette, die durch das kühne, unkonventionelle Spiel von Perko, Savolainen, Lötjönen und Louhivuori ergänzt wird.

“Sie haben sich meinen umfangreichen Notenblättern unerschrocken genähert”, bekräftigt die Pianistin. In Abenteuer der Wildblume ist diese Furchtlosigkeit wie Akelei zu einem prächtigen und sehr lebendigen Exemplar aufgeblüht.

Yelena Eckemoff wurde in Moskau geboren, wo sie mit vier Jahren begann, nach Gehör zu spielen und Musik zu komponieren. Mit sieben Jahren besuchte sie die Gnessins-Schule für musikalisch begabte Kinder und immatrikulierte sich schließlich am Moskauer Staatskonservatorium, um klassisches Klavier zu studieren.

In ihren Zwanzigern fühlte sich Eckemoff zum Jazz hingezogen – zu einer Zeit, als die Musik, oder zumindest Aufnahmen davon, in der damaligen Sowjetunion eine seltene Ware war. Doch ein Auftritt von Dave Brubeck hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang bestärkte ihre neu entdeckte Liebe zur Musik und prägte ihren kreativen Weg von da an.

Es stellte sich heraus, dass dieser Weg durch die Vereinigten Staaten führte, wohin Eckemoff 1991 einwanderte und sich in North Carolina niederließ. In dem Land, das den Jazz hervorbrachte, machte sie sich auf die Suche nach Spielern, die ihren komplizierten Ideen gerecht werden konnten.

Die Suche war langwierig und manchmal frustrierend, aber sie zahlte sich aus, als sie mit Bassisten wie Mads Vinding und Schlagzeuger Peter Erskine an ihrem 2010 erschienenen Album Cold Sun arbeiten konnte. Später arbeitete sie unter anderem mit Mark Turner, Joe Locke, Ralph Alessi, Billy Hart, Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Joey Baron, Arild Andersen und Jon Christensen, dem norwegischen Bassisten, dessen letzte Aufnahme auf Eckemoffs Album Nocturnal Animals (2020) erschien.

Mit Adventures of the Wildflower wollte Eckemoff ihrer Wahlheimat ein Angebot an eine positive Stimmung machen. “Ich war bewegt, diese Aufnahme als Antwort auf unsere turbulenten Zeiten zu machen”, sagt sie. “Ich glaube, dass nichts wichtiger ist, als dass alle irdischen Wesen einen Weg finden, friedlich nebeneinander in der gleichen Gemeinschaft zusammenzuleben. Die Figuren in meiner Geschichte mögen zwar Meinungsverschiedenheiten miteinander haben, aber am Ende finden sie immer einen Weg, um gemeinsam auf demselben Grundstück zu koexistieren.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS press release, October 29, 2019

Yelena Eckemoff Presents An Exploration Of The Nighttime Animal Kingdom On “Nocturnal Animals,” Set For January 24 Release By Her L&H Production Label

The Russian-born, North Carolina-based pianist-composer, on her 15th album in 10 years, imagines thoughts and personalities of 14 wild, darkness-dwelling creatures, in an unusual quartet setting with bassist Arild Andersen, drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen.

Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff adds another link to her chain of thoughtful concept albums with Nocturnal Animals, which her own L&H Production imprint will release on January 24. True to its title, the double album features 14 musical impressions of the creatures that rule the night. The pieces are brought to life by a quartet that places Eckemoff alongside bassist Arild Andersen and drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen.

Eckemoff is fond of creating these sorts of sonic portrait galleries. Prior albums have explored such disparate subjects as the desert, the biblical psalms, and colors. Yet never before has the North Carolina (by way of Moscow) pianist taken on such an array of wild beasts. Appropriately, however, Nocturnal Animals teems with life: in the music, of course, but also in the free-verse poems that Eckemoff has written as supplements to each of the album’s compositions.
“No one knows how and what animals think,” she says. “But in my poetic writing about them I perceive each one as a being with an intriguing personality, and they all think and act similarly to how people would in certain situations.”

That personification is manifest in the gripping suspense of “Bat,” the sly but stealthy swing of “Fox,” the roaming, appropriately glimmering “Firefly,” and the graceful, determined “Sea Turtle.” A number of pieces take on surprising dimensions that depart from our received wisdom about these animals. “Walkingstick,” for example, has a supple, delicate beauty that offsets its strange syncopations; “Toad” is stately and majestic; and “Scorpion” has tinges of warmth and empathy enfolded into its moody, mysterious structures.

In short, Nocturnal Animals conveys a tremendous amount of nuance, thanks for which go to the musicians who help Eckemoff to execute her vision. Andersen, with whom the pianist has the longest collaborative relationship, acts largely as a second or counter-melodist for her, while the dual drummers draw rhythmic designs around each of them (and each other). “Jon is so unique, so insanely original; he doesn’t play patterns or beats, he plays around the beat, against the beat, building layers,” Eckemoff explains. “Thomas grew up listening to Jon. If anyone could work together with him, it was Thomas…. You can hear how differently they play and at the same time marvel at their remarkable compatibility and interplay.”

Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four. By seven, she was attending the Gnessins School for musically gifted children. But while she was tclassical musicianship, including piano studies at Moscow State Conservatory, Eckemoff wanted to rock and roll.

Her love of rock music included Mahavishnu Orchestra, which helped lead her to jazz in her twenties. That new passion was sealed when Eckemoff attended Dave Brubeck’s 1987 concert in Moscow. The experience reconfigured her composing and playing, and led her to form a jazz band.

Playing jazz proved to be a difficult proposition, due both to the complexity of her compositions and to the repressive nature of the Soviet regime. On the latter issue, she devoted herself (at great personal cost) to obtaining a U.S. visa, finally doing so in 1991 and settling in North Carolina.

The former was a matter of finding high-caliber musicians to play with, which she would also eventually achieve. Cold Sun, her 2010 debut recording, featured the great Danish bassist Mads Vinding and the legendary American drummer Peter Erskine. By the time of 2018’s Better Than Gold and Silver, she was able to attract an all-star lineup that included the likes of trumpeter Ralph Alessi, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron.

Nocturnal Animals is the pianist-composer’s 15th release in ten years, demonstrating her extraordinary (and seemingly never-ending) fount of inspiration. “There are so many ideas going through my head at any given time,” Eckemoff says. “I don’t know what I’ll explore next.”

COLORS press release, January 22, 2019

Yelena Eckemoff Presents A Journey Through The Human Life Span On "Colors," Set For Feb. 22 Release

Yelena Eckemoff’s prolific stream of recordings reflect not only the Russian-born pianist and composer’s creative drive, but also her seemingly limitless imagination. On her latest CD “Colors,” a stylistically wide-ranging duet recording with the brilliant French drummer Manu Katché, Eckemoff interprets 14 colors, each representing a different stage in life–from the bright opener “White,” which reflects on the beginnings of existence, to the “Black” of death’s unknowable void.

Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff casts her eye on the visible spectrum with “Colors,” her third album in just over a year, set for a February 22 release on her own L&H Production label. Accompanied only by the brilliant French drummer Manu Katché, Eckemoff creates musical impressions of 14 distinct hues, organizing them into a symbolic progression through the stages of life—using a panoply of styles as diverse as the spectrum itself.

“Colors” is both a popular title and subject in the jazz world, placing Eckemoff into a tradition that extends from Ellington’s magnum opus “Black, Brown and Beige” to Miles Davis’s late-period suite Aura. The Russian-born pianist’s conception is unique, however. There is striking originality in its stylistic breadth, its intimate duet setting, and its panoramic view of the human life span—which Eckemoff also maps with a series of free-verse poems that correspond to each color and composition.

“Ultimately, everything is filtered through my inner feelings and expressed through melody and harmony, but this isn’t about me,” says Eckemoff. “I deliberately avoided any autobiographical references. It’s about the average course of anyone’s life.”

That course runs from the “White” of birth’s blank slate to the “Black” of death’s unknowable void. The path within this framework, however, deviates from the basic light-to-dark progression that it suggests. “White” is followed by “Pink,” representing an infant’s discovery and perception of the world; “Orange” is the burst of youthful energy; “Violet” is the thrill of first love. As the life matures, a more sophisticated palette comes into play: “Bordeaux” portrays a bottle of wine as a nuanced metaphor for an aging mind and body, while “Aquamarine” evokes the ocean, along with an array of associated memories and sentiments.

Eckemoff’s playing style similarly zigzags from point to disparate point, according to the moods and ideas expressed in each piece. Where “Indigo” is grim jazz-rock, “Blue” evolves from an exquisite lyrical ballad into a violent emotional storm, to be followed by the sultry but playful passions of “Red” and “Brown”’s whimsical waltz of inspiration.

The range of ideas in the music is informed by Eckemoff’s work with drummer Katché, whose remarkable individuality made him a natural fit for the project. “He’s always searching for grooves, while my music is a combination of structured and improvisational approaches,” she says. “This was exactly what I wanted—the groovy, spicy drums which would be a world in themselves and not merely following the piano.”

Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four and attended Gnessins School for musically gifted children. During her teens she became devoted to rock music, even as she studied classical piano at Moscow State Conservatory.

In her early twenties, her eclectic musical interests extended into jazz. The standard repertoire was her primary teacher, though she applied those lessons to the writing of new tunes. Eckemoff’s witnessing of Dave Brubeck’s 1987 concert in Moscow, however, changed her life, leading directly to the formation of her first band that “tried to play jazz.”

Playing jazz proved to be a difficult proposition, due both to the complexity of her compositions and to the repressive nature of the Soviet regime. On the latter issue, she devoted herself (at great personal cost) to obtaining a U.S. visa, finally doing so in 1991 and settling in North Carolina.

The former was a matter of finding high-caliber musicians to play with, which she would also eventually achieve. “Cold Sun,” her 2010 debut jazz recording, featured the great Danish bassist Mads Vinding and the legendary American drummer Peter Erskine. By the time of 2018’s “Better Than Gold and Silver,” she was able to attract an all-star lineup that included the likes of trumpeter Ralph Alessi, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron.

Then came “Colors,” and the chance to work with Katché—at which she jumped, knowing the strength of their musical connection. “I felt the closeness of our souls,” she says, “and thought that it would be a pleasant and exciting challenge to make this record with him.”

Yelena Eckemoff will perform a solo piano concert at the Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, on Wednesday 2/27, and at KITO Vegesack, Bremen, Germany, on Thursday 4/25.

BETTER THAN GOLD AND SILVER press release, August 10, 2018

Pianist/Composer Yelena Eckemoff to Release "Better Than Gold and Silver," Her Jazz Settings of Biblical Psalms, Sept. 21


The only real surprise at this stage in Yelena Eckemoff’s unique, super-prolific career, during which she has recorded with such jazz greats as Billy Hart, Chris Potter, Mark Turner, Peter Erskine, and George Mraz, would be if the Russian-born pianist-composer made new music that didn’t surprise. But even by that standard, Eckemoff’s gorgeous new double album, “Better Than Gold and Silver,” on which she sets biblical psalms to music, is an amazement.

The prolific Russian-born, North Carolina-based pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff adds a sacred dimension to the ambitious series of concept albums in her extensive catalogue her new 2-CD set “Better Than Gold and Silver.” Due for September 21 release on her imprint L&H Production, it’s the first in a projected series of recordings featuring Eckemoff’s settings of Biblical psalms. The new album includes both vocal and instrumental versions of 10 songs she conceived as works of modern jazz rather than part of the Christian music canon.

While the album’s lyrics—beautifully sung by tenor Tomás Cruz and mezzo-soprano Kim Mayo—are word-for-word verses from the King James Bible (the album’s title is based on verse 72 from Psalm 119: “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver”), Eckemoff explains in her liner notes that the music is what she “heard behind the words.” What she heard and composed is highly melodic, multilayered, intricately structured jazz that takes full advantage not only of her virtuoso pianism, but also of the distinctive talents of the all-star team of instrumentalists she enlisted for the project: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, guitarist Ben Monder, violinist Christian Howes, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron.

The genesis of Eckemoff’s interest in composing jazz settings for sacred texts dates back to her time in her native Moscow, where she and her husband were searching for something to fill the spiritual void around them. They found it in the hymns and religious songs of the city’s only Baptist church and its choir and pipe organ; soon, these former atheists were drawn into Christianity and baptized.

Looking for texts with which she could musically commune with her newfound faith, Eckemoff turned to the psalms in a Russian bible, but had trouble understanding its Old Slavonic language. She searched in vain for an English bible in a country that banned religious texts. Eventually an American missionary she’d written to sent her a Bible adapted for people speaking English as a second language.

Years later, having overcome overwhelming odds and emigrated to the U.S., Eckemoff was informed by a minister in her North Carolina hometown that she had been using the wrong version of the Bible. She discovered the King James version was indeed deeper, richer, and more poetic, and its psalms inspired this, her first collection of sacred texts in jazz settings.

Yelena Eckemoff has been composing since she was four years old, her musical impressions taken from her mother, a pianist and teacher. Years of academic studies at Gnessins School for musically gifted children, followed by the Moscow Conservatory, provided a solid foundation in classical music. But as she grew into her teens she developed an interest in other musical styles, like pop, rock, and jazz, although this was a time when jazz recordings were scarce in Russia.

Eckemoff attended Dave Brubeck’s legendary concert in Moscow in 1987, a pivotal moment for her and many other Russian musicians. Though she had already started playing jazz before hearing Brubeck, this was one of the first jazz concerts she had attended, and she was so impressed she formed her own band and “tried to play jazz.”

Stylistically, Eckemoff’s writing and playing reference classical music, the blues, jazz-rock fusion, free-jazz and, occasionally, funk. Her recordings this decade have each dealt conceptually with a particular theme. “Glass Song” (2013), her first project pairing Arild Andersen and Peter Erskine (who surprisingly had never played together before), features songs about rain, melting ice, and clouds. “A Touch of Radiance” (2014), with Mark Turner, Joe Locke, George Mraz, and Billy Hart, is dedicated to happiness while “Lions” (2015), featuring Andersen and Hart, captures life in the savannah with songs about those majestic cats and their cubs as well as migrating birds and tropical rains. Eckemoff’s previous release, “Desert” (May 2018), captures musically the mysteries and mesmerizing allure of one of nature’s most daunting environments.

“Better Than Gold and Silver” is an exceptional addition to the lineage of works inspired by religion like Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts,” John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” and Steve Reich’s own interpretation of the Psalms, “Tehillim.” “I’ve been smitten and humbled by the profundity of the psalms,” Eckemoff confesses, “not only as sacred texts, but as a marvelous treasure of the poetic art. I found out for myself that there’s a lot to be learned from these verses even in our modern world about the eternal questions of life and death—what is the meaning of life, what makes people happy, what we leave behind after we die, and where to find strength to go about the daily labors and survive in the face of adversity.”

Yelena Eckemoff will showcase “Better Than Gold and Silver”—with Tomás Cruz, voc; Ralph Alessi, tpt; Jeff Miles, g; Drew Gress, b; Jochen Rueckert, d—at a free concert on Friday 10/5, 7pm, St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue, NYC.

DESERT press release, October 8, 2018

Pianist/Composer Yelena Eckemoff Evokes Mystery & Allure of Arabian Desert on Quartet Outing "Desert," Set for Release May 4

“Desert,” Yelena Eckemoff’s latest in a string of sweeping concept albums, captures the Arabian Desert in all its mystery and natural allure not only with its 11 thematically linked compositions, but also with original poems, prose, and (as she frequently provides) album art. Featuring Oregon oboist Paul McCandless, Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, and super-versatile drummer Peter Erskine, “Desert” is a culmination of Eckemoff’s lyrical blend of jazz and classical music.

It takes a discerning eye, or in this case ear, to envision the desert as more than a vast, arid wasteland. Pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff succeeds in musically portraying many of this daunting environment’s mysteries and its boundless allure on her new recording, “Desert”, to be released May 4 on her imprint L&H Production.

The quartet outing, the latest in the impressive series of concept albums at the core of the prolific Russian-born, North Carolina-based keyboard virtuoso’s catalog, reunites her with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen and internationally acclaimed drummer Peter Erskine and features Oregon co-founder Paul McCandless on oboe, English horn, soprano saxophone, and bass clarinet.

Each of “Desert”’s 11 thematically linked compositions, given such descriptive titles as “Bedouins,” “Mirages,” “Condor,” “Oasis,” “Dust Storm,” and “Sands,” showcase Eckemoff’s distinctive style that blends classical music with jazz improvisation to create works that range from the ethereal to the mercurial to the dissonant.

Yet Eckemoff’s music is infused with her Russian soul, vivid memories of picture books she entertained herself with as an only child, and what she calls the “sinuous” nature of her personal narrative which includes having emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the U.S. with her husband in 1991. With her modern, sometimes free-leaning approach and the weight and intensity her composing and playing attains, she and her music are strikingly original. “I’m a very emotional person,” she says. “So many things have vanished from my life. When you express these things in your music, when you share your experiences, you compensate for your losses. Music makes you whole again.”

What is remarkable about Eckemoff, who released numerous albums, some of them classical, before making her bona fide jazz debut in 2010 with the release of the winter-themed trio recording Cold Sun, is that you never know in which direction she’s heading. One key to her artistry is her dedication to music that has many intertwined threads. “I haven’t composed much for solo piano,” she says. “I’m always hearing instruments and the ways they go together.”

For “Desert,” Eckemoff read extensively about the subject, including several books about Bedouins. “I wanted to know what kind of people they are,” she says. “How is it that they’ve managed to change with the times, finding freedom in such harsh conditions. I wanted to capture the true soul of Bedouins.”

In envisioning the recording, Eckemoff says, “I thought of Paul and his oboe, on which he is so expressive, and decided this is the sound I wanted. Peter helped me connect with Paul, who really is the reason for this group. As for Arild and Peter, they had just the right voices for my melodies and compositions. I feel like when I have these guys around, I can do anything.”

Born in Moscow, Yelena Eckemoff has been composing since she was four years old, her musical impressions taken from her mother, a pianist and teacher. Years of academic studies at Gnessins School for musically gifted children, followed by the Moscow Conservatory, provided a solid foundation in classical music. But as she grew into her teens she developed an interest in other musical styles, like pop, rock, and jazz, and this was a time when jazz recordings were so hard to come by in Russia.

In 1987, in a pivotal moment for Eckemoff and many other Russian musicians, she attended Dave Brubeck’s legendary concert in Moscow. Though she had already started playing jazz before seeing Brubeck, mainly traditional styles and bebop, this was one of the first jazz concerts she had attended, and she was so impressed she formed her own band and “tried to play jazz.” But her songs proved too complicated for her fellow musicians (and have gotten no easier, as McCandless, Andersen, and Erskine all attest in a videotaped interview after recording “Desert”).

Alluding to such styles as blues, jazz-rock fusion, and the occasional funk, Eckemoff’s albums have ranged far and wide while continuing to deal in high concepts. “Glass Song” (2013), the first of her albums to team Andersen and Erskine (who surprisingly had never previously played together), is an environmental treat boasting songs about rain, melting ice, and clouds. “A Touch of Radiance” (2014), dedicated to happiness, features Mark Turner, Joe Locke, George Mraz, and Billy Hart while “Lions” (2015), featuring Andersen and Hart, captures life in the savanna with songs about those majestic animals and their cubs as well as migrating birds and tropical rains.

IN THE SHADOW OF A CLOUD press release, June 7, 2017

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff Sonically Recreates Memories of Her Past With Stellar Ensemble on “In the Shadow of a Cloud” – Available August 4

A self-described ‘old fashioned romantic,’ Moscow-born pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff once again demonstrates uncommon lyricism and a gift for melody on In the Shadow of a Cloud, her 11th recording since transitioning from the classical world to jazz back in 2010 with the release of Cold Sun on her own L&H Production label. With a pristine touch and refined sense of form, Eckemoff organically blends classical elements with jazz improvisation in her evocative pieces that strike a delicate balance between being through-composed and full of open-ended exploration. She is joined on this compelling double album by a stellar crew of New Yorkers in Chris Potter on multiple reeds and flute, Adam Rogers on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, all playing together for the first time.
Eckemoff pushes the envelope a bit further with her stellar crew on In the Shadow of a Cloud, her most upbeat and accomplished recording to date. Once again, Eckemoff wears many hats on this project by not only composing and arranging all the music, recruiting the band and producing the music for her own independent label, but also providing the evocative painting that graces the cover and the series of poems that accompany each track in the 28-page booklet.
Beyond the luxurious packaging, the highly affecting music on In the Shadow of a Cloud is imbued with remarkable band interplay and daring improvisations from the jazz heavyweights who serve as her sidemen on this ambitious double album set. And they each had high praise for Yelena in working with her on this tightly-knit project.
“The session went extremely well. Yelena has some very idiosyncratic music, very evocative, and it was a real pleasure to play it, especially with her and these other fine musicians,” states Cleaver. Potter reflects, “The music itself awakens a feeling, and that seems to be the center of where she is approaching music from, which I like a lot.”
Like her last two concept albums–2016’s Leaving Everything Behind (about emigrating from her native Russia in 1991) and 2017’s Blooming Tall Phlox (about how certain smells from her childhood in Russia still trigger magical memories)–In the Shadow of a Cloud is another personal statement from the prolific composer.
Whether it’s her memories of the sound of grasshoppers in a country field, the massive iron railroad bridge with wooden walkways near her home, her grandpa’s motorboat, the sensation of swinging in a hammock with her mother or the fragrance of wild lilies mixed with the smells of warm asphalt and potatoes and onions frying on kerosene burners, Eckemoff’s In the Shadow of a Cloud stands as an evocative soundtrack for the life she left behind in Russia when she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina in 1991. “All of those places and people are lost for me,” she says. “So I write about them, even in this short way. I want a longer life for them than just in my memory.The title track, which opens the first album, is moody and atmospheric, though it contains elements of polyphony between the instruments. Potter delivers a powerful tenor solo here that culminates in some urgent free blowing in the rubato section. The saxophonist also shines on the driving “Saratovsky Bridge” and more introspective “Fishing Village,” both underscored by Cleaver’s intuitive and interactive pulse on the kit. Potter delivers a rare turn on flute on the dreamy 5/4 “Waters of Tsna River,” which also features brilliant cascading solos by Rogers and Eckemoff herself. “It’s very interesting the way that Yelena writes and thinks about music, the way she would describe every song before we did it,” states Potter. “She clearly has a strong visual or memory sense that’s associated with everything. And you can feel that in the way she writes.”
The gentle “Acorn Figurines,” underscored by Cleaver’s delicate brushwork, is a kind of jazz sonata for quartet showcasing Rogers’ signature legato flow on the fretboard. Gress also turns in an arresting arco solo on this unique hybrid number. Guitarist Rogers also shines on the surging “On the Motorboat,” which shifts into the rubato zone midway through, resulting in some of the most provocative and free-wheeling moments of the session from all the participants. The first album closes with the lazy meditation “Hammock Stories,” which sets the perfect tone for a hot summer day in the backyard.
The second disc opens with jaunty quartet swinger “Picnic in the Oaks,” which has Rogers, Eckemoff, Gress and Cleaver all contributing potent solos. Potter returns on soprano sax for the engaging “Waltz of the Yellow Petals,” which is fueled by Cleaver’s loosely swinging approach to the kit and also features another remarkably fluid solo from Rogers. “Yelena’s music is quite beautiful and really unique. It’s different from a normal jazz record because it’s more through-composed,” states Rogers. “But I wouldn’t describe it as being a ‘classical-jazz’ hybrid record, because it sounds more like she’s assimilated these influences and is expressing them in an already very processed way; processed in a really good way.”
Another quartet number, “Trail Along the River,” has a distinctly through-composed quality, though Eckemoff and Rogers break loose for some sparkling solos within the form. Potter returns on soprano sax on the moody “Lament,” then adds a new color to the proceedings with his potent bass clarinet work on the driving “Vision of a Hunt.” The melancholy quartet ballad “The Fog” showcases Potter’s soaring soprano sax alongside Eckemoff on piano, Gress on bass and Cleaver on drums. The second disc closes with the very pleasant “Tambov Streets on a Summer Night.”
While some of her past works, like Leaving Everything Behind and Blooming Tall Phlox are largely nostalgic, the story of In the Shadow of a Cloud ends with an optimistic outlook at the present and future. As Eckemoff explains, “In the last piece, ‘Tambov Streets on a Summer Night,’ I turn down the opportunity to re-live my past as a shadow, invisible to all, and instead choose the present: Even though my heart aches with love/For the people and places of past days/I don’t belong in those times anymore./My time is in the present/Where I have many tasks unfinished, where my life’s work awaits me./No matter that the road before me grows shorter, I am eager to see what the future holds in store for me.

BLOOMING TALL PHLOX press release, November 9, 2016

Pianist/Composer Yelena Eckemoff Recollects Childhood In Russia Through "Sense Of Smell" On Blooming Tall Phlox, Featuring An All-Finnish Lineup Of Young Rising Stars

Blooming Tall Phlox is Yelena Eckemoff‘s tenth album since shifting gears from the classical music of her early career and a mid-career break to raise her children, into a more firmly and decidedly jazz focus with the 2010 release of Cold Sun. Playfully imbued with vitality, energy, creativity and, perhaps most importantly, an unrelenting sound of surprise that reveals more with each and every listen, Blooming Tall Phlox proves that it is possible to reinvent oneself. Over six years and ten recordings, Eckemoff has evolved into a deeply creative jazz artist: not just a pianist capable of engaging with some of the finest jazz musicians on the planet, but a composer/arranger who can surprise them with unexpected and enigmatic music that drives them to even further levels of excellence.

Augmented by her compelling artwork and poetry, Eckemoff now adds the impact of human senses to her music and in the case of Blooming Tall Phlox, its that of smell. Increasingly imbued by her distinctive, recognizable approach to melody, song titles like “Apples Laid Out on the Floor,” “Wildflower Meadows” and “Old Fashioned Bread Store” not only palpably evoke these alluring odors, but provide both vivid and immediate imagery and inspiration for this double release divided into two parts: Summer Smells and Winter Smells.

“I had the idea of writing music about smell for some time before I met with [drummer] Olavi [Louhivuori] in Finland,” Eckemoff says. “The idea came into focus when I saw how much Finland reminded me of Russia; it became obvious to me that it would be the best place to record an album about various aromas. I brought fifteen songs to the session, already named and designed to express certain smells. Writing the poetry came later, even though I nurtured my ideas along with the music. Then I had to select a title for the album but as I was writing my poems it became clear that there is one smell that triggers my childhood memories: the smell of the phlox. So I decided to paint a picture of myself in my grandparent’s garden, sniffing the phlox, based on a black and white photograph from the time.”

Creating increasingly multi-disciplinary music is not Eckemoff’s only change with Blooming Tall Phlox. Following a string of recordings with internationally renowned Norwegian musicians like Arild Andersen, Tore Brunborg, Jon Christensen and Mats Eilertsen, and A-list Americans including Peter Erskine, Billy Hart, Mark Turner, Joe Locke and Mark Feldman, Eckemoff recruited some of Finland’s best young, up-and-coming players forthis outing. In addition to trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, already garnering international attention for his series of recordings for Germany’s ACT label, and Olavi Louhivuori, whose contributions to albums on the heralded ECM label with artists including Tomasz Stańko and Mats Eilertsen have, since 2009, also placed the drummer and percussionist on the global map, Eckemoff enlisted vibraphonist Panu Savolainen and double bassist Antti Lötjönen–two rising stars in their own country, and both already showing the promise of even broader recognition.

Eckemoff’s range is broad, as a pianist, composer and arranger. Her music can seamlessly move between ethereal abstractions and arpeggio-driven thematic constructs; bolstered by an organic meshing of frenetic grooves and in-the-moment interaction, providing contexts for expressive improvisational élan from Eckemoff and her exceptional quintet, the pianist’s firm yet subtle touch successfully unveiling, indeed, the character of her Bechstein. With the exception of a small handful of through-composed material, most of album’s fifteen compositions demonstrate a remarkable confluence of form and freedom, couched within the context of some of Eckemoff’s most challenging yet appealing charts to date. And yet, despite the openness, the immediacy and unpredictability that pervades much of the album, there’s no shortage of affecting lyricism, whether it’s the thematically rich “Wildflower Meadows” or temporally fluid tone poem “Sleeping in the Tent,” where Eckemoff’s scripted lines provide expansive improvisational opportunities.

Blooming Tall Phlox also demonstrates, between Eckemoff’s impeccable playing and interaction with her superb bandmates, that her early classical training/experience may still be a part of her DNA, but what she is doing now is irrefutably jazz. It’s a potent combination that, with Blooming Tall Phlox, not only raises her own already high bar, but those of Pohjola, Savolainen, Lötjönen and Louhivuori as well.

The album is both a consistent fit within Eckemoff’s overall discography and a move into areas previously unexplored for a pianist who, rather than constantly thinking about where she is now, is always (and, at this moment, already) thinking ahead. She already has her next album in the can and, if the exceptional Blooming Tall Phlox is any indication, it will no doubt continue the upward trajectory that this daring pianist/composer has been on since she first appeared in the jazz world just six short years ago.

LEAVING EVERYTHING BEHIND press release, March 25, 2016

Yelena Eckemoff Muses On Life Changing Journeys And Looks Back To Early-Career Compositions On "Leaving Everything Behind" - Available May 13

Yelena Eckemoff, the prolific and enthralling (Downbeat) pianist and composer, has earned plaudits for her recent CDs, Everblue, Lions, A Touch of Radiance, Glass Song and more. She has made high-level original music with sidemen on the order of Peter Erskine, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, George Mraz, and Mark Turner. With her new release Leaving Everything Behind, Yelena deepens her multifaceted body of work by drawing on older original material, a few pieces dating as far back as the 1980s. “To emphasize my concept behind this album, I needed to go back to my roots,” says the pianist. “I wanted to draw on music I composed when I knew very little if anything at all about the modern jazz field.”

These compositions, in various ways, recall for Eckemoff deeply personal events and contemplations. Yet in reinventing her own works so thoroughly and imaginatively, Eckemoff looks back to look forward, approaching her older material from the heights of her acquired skills as a jazz pianist and band leader. Inhabiting that rarefied area between modern classical chamber music and progressive jazz, Eckemoff once again enlists legendary drummer Billy Hart, whose expressive capacities and timbral choices give the music an unstinting freshness. Completing the lineup is sought-after bassist Ben Street (Danilo Pérez, David Virelles, Billy Hart Quartet) and seasoned violinist and improviser Mark Feldman (John Abercrombie, Sylvie Courvoisier, Uri Caine).

Eckemoff confronts these memories and others in a series of poems that accompany each of the tracks on Leaving Everything Behind (a practice she began on Glass Song from 2012). The cover art and all interior drawings are also Eckemoff s. In fact the front cover artwork dates back to the time when she composed the music. “I am a professional musician, and painting and poetry for me has always been just a hobby. But I believe that including my own poetry and paintings into the CD package gives people an opportunity to connect with my music on a deeper, more personal level. Also, I think it s important in the age of streaming to offer people a comprehensive physical object, a fuller experience of art.”

There is a strong through-composed element in Eckemoff s music, yet her melding of complex written material with a flowing, elastic sense of rhythm is what gives her efforts, Leaving Everything Behind included, an improvisational and even playful feeling. Of the eleven pieces, Mushroom Rain, Leaving Everything Behind and Hope Lives Eternal were composed when Eckemoff was in her early 20s. Ocean of Pines, an intricate piece with waltz, 4/4 and rubato sections and a haunting, elusive harmonic character, was composed in 2005, while six remaining pieces stem from a fruitful period in 2008.

The magnificent texture of the quartet, the transparent beauty of these four unique instrumental voices, is immediately apparent on Prologue, which leads to the darker, more rhythmically emphatic Rising From Within. Other highlights include the contrapuntal dancing of Eckemoff and Feldman on Spots of Light, the Billy Hart-driven groove of Love Train (not to be confused with the O Jays hit), the lilting quasi-shuffle feel and poignant lyricism of Tears of Tenderness and the stately 3/4 pulse and soaring Feldman solo that enlivens A Date in Paradise.

– by David Adler.

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