Pianist Yelena Eckemoff got a late start as a full-fledged jazz recording artist but she’s making up for lost time. Eckemoff entered the artistic world as a young classical pianist in the Soviet Union, but she chose to put her work on hold for a spell while raising her children. Eventually, she returned to the piano with renewed creativity energy, but only after leaving her native land. In order to make the move, Eckemoff and her husband had to temporarily leave their three children behind, which was a difficult and gut wrenching decision, but all worked out in the end and her relocation to the United States gave her a new personal and artistic lease on life.
Eckemoff has been living stateside with her family for over two decades now, and she’s recorded more than a dozen albums in various styles and contexts during that time, but it took a while for her to develop an outward identity as a jazz pianist. Cold Sun (L&H, 2009), which was her first recorded meeting with drumming icon Peter Erskine and her first proper trio album, proved to be the major turning point in her jazz career. While she had recorded in jazz settings prior to that album, and had used a trio-plus-guest format on at least one of those occasions, she truly found her voice with this specific eternal triangle formula.
From that point on, Eckemoff churned out compelling and focused jazz albums at an astounding pace; she recorded and released four more piano trio records in less than four years. While she never retains the same trio for more than a single record, certain musicians, like Erskine and bassist Mads Vinding, pop up on more than one occasion and certain ideals come to the surface time and time again in her work. Themes of nature, sounds of isolation, stark settings, and blurred lines between compositional and improvisational elements are visible on all of Eckemoff’s trio dates, but no two records sound exactly the same.
For Glass Song, she reenlisted Erskine and brought bassist Arild Andersen into the fold for the first time. Surprisingly, neither veteran had ever recorded together, but you would never know it. Eckemoff, Andersen and Erskine create music that’s focused, yet free floating, and open, yet never nebulous. Pure melody is of less importance than the greater narrative in each number, but the music still sings out with melodic grace.
Erskine’s identity as a swing drummer or fusion force is suppressed here, as he prefers to use the drums as an instrument of extreme refinement and minimalism. “Dripping Icicles” is the only number that finds him doing a patented jazz ride pattern. Elsewhere, he treats the drums like an equal partner in a chamber music setting. Andersen is out front more often than any bassist on Eckemoff’s other recent releases and his foreground appearance(s) change the trio dynamic that existed on her earlier outings. While he occasionally delivers a no-mistaking-it solo (“March Rain”), his bass usually serves as a guide through various scenes, rather than a scene-stealing soloist. All three musicians find balance as storytellers, team players and solo personalities.
While Manfred Eicher and his storied label have nothing to do with this record, Glass Song has that “ECM sound,” if ever it existed. Mystery, blooming musical thoughts and vaguely haunting notions are at the heart of this captivating album.