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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.