Once again, jazz pianist and virtuoso Yelena Eckemoff has created a feast for our ears, with this feast taking place at night and in the wild. Yelena chooses animals that typically thrive in the dark hours and crafts musical impressions of them. Her innate depth and understanding of music allows her to represent each critter so that we can actually picture it creeping about in the night, be they hunting, foraging or just gently resting. From the gentle Walkingstick, softly landing near us with grace and delicacy to the ferocity of the mighty Grizzly Bear roaring toward us. Yelena’s brilliance along with the strong, tight bass lines from the legendary veteran Arild Andersen and with the intricate juxtaposition of master drummers Thomas Stronen and Jon Christensen allow us to see and sense the sly Fox in the night, but also the aggressive nature of the mighty Wolf. The sneaky rattlesnake is almost feared behind closed eyes, as well as the sting of the Scorpion. From start to finish, this 2-CD set grabs onto the listener and just refuses to let go, and the anticipation of which of God’s creations will be in the room with us next credits Yelena’s mastery of the piano. Her ability to set a musical stage that brings the listener into the lair, den, hole or tree of each animal is rewarding beyond words. Don’t be surprised, when you get it, to find yourself in Yelena’s forest for many an escape. A higher recommendation I could not make, and Nocturnal Animals leaves me breathless to hear what realm she conquers next.
Eckemoff’s latest project is titled Nocturnal Animals, which adds another link to her chain of thoughtful concept albums. Released on her L&H Production imprint on January 24, 2020, the double album features fourteen musical impressions of animals that come out at night. The music is brought to life by Eckemoff on piano together with bassist Arild Andersen and drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen. Andersen acts mainly as a counter-melodist with Eckemoff. This is offset by the dual drummers’ rhythmic structures around each other and the melodies. “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.” Eckemoff also has a theme that the music is reflected in her paintings and poems that accompany each track. The animals vary, ranging from the fox depicted in Eckemoff’s cover painting to cicadas, owls, bats, scorpions, and fireflies.
Our favorite track is “Fox.” Set to a swing feel, which is unusual for Eckemoff, “Fox” has a Monkish style melody that stabs its way through the form. Eckemoff’s solo continues the theme as she develops descending lines around the angular motif. The counterpoint between her left and right hand is very cool. Andersen’s bass sound is singing, and his intonation is beautiful as he navigates the harmonic landscape with ease. The dual drummers give the feel an added energy and push that is very creative. The conversational drum solo is musical and builds back to the melody.
Eckemoff’s albums, as a leader, continue to find creative avenues of expression and orchestrations. Eckemoff’s compositions have always put her in a special place in the jazz world, and now, Nocturnal Animals is starting to mark her as a serious pianist too. A unique project and worth a listen.
The Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff’s release machine rolls and rolls -one wonders when she finds the time to record her two to three albums a year. “Nocturnal Animals” is also a double album – like her many others – and her Scandinavian crew is extremely prominent: two drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen, and bass player Arild Andersen, with whom Eckemoff has often played, belong to the ECM nobility. In this album Eckemoff deals with the mysterious, which commands atmospheric structures of the “Scorpion”, makes the “Fox” swing and sets the tension in “Bat”.Eckemoff has also written poems that accompany each of her compositions (and of course they are printed in the booklet). Enjoy this album in small portions, since pieces like the majestic “Sea Turtle” magically draw you in, making the whole album “Nocturnal Animals” to be but a little too much of the good thing. rt
Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff is predictably unpredictable. After an early series of piano trio albums she worked with larger ensembles, culminating in the sextet (plus vocalists) of Better Than Gold And Silver (L&H, 2018). After cutting back to a duet with drummer Manu Katche on Colors (L&H, 2019) she returns with a larger band, but with a difference; this is a quartet with double bassist Arild Andersen (her longest collaborator), and drummer/percussionists Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen.
It may look like a piano trio plus a second drummer but, in practice, it is more like a piano & double-bass duet plus a drum duet. Andersen is often found as a lead instrument or playing counter-melodies, in addition to traditional bass duties. As usual Eckemoff has a unifying theme—reflected in her paintings and the poems which accompany each track—in this case nocturnal animals. The animals active at night are a varied lot, ranging from the fox depicted in Eckemoff’s cover painting to cicadas, owls, bats…even scorpions and fireflies.
“Cicada” opens the set with a calm evening vibe, including a lyrical double bass solo. “Fox” has a swing feel which is rare in Eckemoff’s music, extending to Thelonious Monk-like blues flavor. “Rattlesnake” is played rubato, with especially free percussion. This is the closest the percussionists come to a solo, distinguishing themselves instead by their empathetic interaction as accompanists. “Toad” opens with a rubato double bass solo, then the piano introduces a sprawling theme, gradually morphing into piano and double bass solos. The bass plays the theme again to close, the entire track demonstrating how central Andersen is to the group sound.
“Lynx” returns to a more direct rhythm, in contrast to the frequently rubato feel of the album. “Sea Turtle” closes the program, placing the recurring theme between bass and piano, while also demonstrating Eckemoff’s sectional compositional style. It includes a spotlighted bass solo with only percussion at first, and concludes with a rhapsodic restatement of the theme, Eckemoff’s piano echoing the Romantic composing style of Liszt or Rachmaninoff.
Given the all-star ensembles frequently found on Eckemoff’s albums, a listener could be forgiven for wondering “who’s the pianist?” This album and the previous duet recording both place Eckemoff the pianist on the same plane as Eckemoff the composer, proof that the two sides of her musical life are closer together than they appear. Nocturnal Animals presents a unique perspective on both.
Title: Norwegian Night Moves
Reviewing Yelena Eckemoff’s exquisite Everblue (2015) for Wall of Sound a few years ago, I considered it a compelling answer to the question “When is an ECM album not an ECM album?” To find out just how that record earned such paradoxical status, read my review. But in the meantime, let’s look at how her brilliant brand-new release Nocturnal Animals addresses an equivalent question: “When is a piano trio not a trio?”
Self-produced for Eckemoff’s own label L & H Production, Nocturnal Animals too resembles one of ECM’s European productions. Joining the pianist-composer are bassist Arild Andersen and drummer/percussionist Jon Christensen, Norwegians who’ve played together regularly since 1967 and who’ve been mainstays of the German label since its beginnings fifty years ago. The session’s main recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug is the man who minted ECM’s trademark ambient studio sound, beginning with Afric Pepperbird, an LP recorded in 1970 by the Jan Garbarek Quartet, which included Andersen and Christensen. And like Everblue, Nocturnal Animals was captured in Kongshaug’s Oslo audio stronghold, Rainbow Studio, site of countless ECM sessions. Nocturnal Animals may well have been the man’s final project: battling ill health, he was assisted in the control room by second engineer Peer Espen Ursfjord, and Kongshaug passed away a year and a half later in 2019, ECM Records’ fiftieth anniversary.
Yelena Eckemoff with recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
On Everblue, Eckemoff rounded out her quartet with Norwegian sax man Tore Brunborg. For Nocturnal Animals the pianist retains Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen but replaces the saxophonist with second drummer/percussionist Thomas Strønen, another—much younger—Norwegian familiar from ECM recordings (three under his own name, and three co-led with saxist Iain Ballamy under the group name Food). In effect this marks Eckemoff’s return to the piano trio format with which she began her jazz-oriented recording career, only now the drum role is doubled. Eckemoff first fully embraced the jazz idiom on her trio record Cold Sun (2010), having previously released albums exploring different genres. A further four piano trio discs followed in succession; the fifth, Glass Song (2013), marked her first collaboration with bassist Arild Andersen, who would also anchor the tremendous trio album Lions (2015). Since Lions, Eckemoff has concentrated on other configurations including quartet, quintet, sextet and duo, enlisting a mini who’s who of A-list musicians: Mark Turner, Billy Hart, Drew Gress, Peter Erskine, Ralph Alessi, Manu Katché, Chris Potter, Joey Baron, Gerald Cleaver, Joe Locke, Verneri Pohjola, Paul McCandless, and others. The resultant albums comprise one of the most impressively varied yet cohesive bodies of recorded music imaginable, and the production standards are consistently impeccable—a testament to L & H Production’s seriousness of purpose, for all these records were self-released. Nocturnal Animals, one of several double-length albums she’s issued, is Yelena Eckemoff’s fifteenth release in ten years.
A typical Eckemoff record includes poems penned by the pianist herself, and Nocturnal Animals is no exception. Her music is unabashedly programmatic: each album collects pieces illustrative of thematically related poems reproduced in the accompanying booklet. The double album Lions, which allied the pianist with bassist Andersen and drummer Billy Hart, musically evokes aspects of leonine character and behaviour. A different kind of double creature feature, Nocturnal Animals animates the habits of fourteen insects, mammals and reptiles known for covert behaviour—living their lives under the radar, under the cover of night, or even underground. On most of her fourteen tracks Eckemoff uses both drummers to dramatize these animals’ furtive interactions with their environment and cohabitants. By email the pianist explained to me how Christensen and Stronen were recorded alongside each other in the same isolation booth “so they could see each other and exchange cues.” Intuition told her that “’playing animals’ would benefit from richer percussion textures,” but she felt nonetheless nervous about how this augmented trio formation would sound. After hearing the first take of the first piece they recorded, however, Eckemoff and her colleagues felt so happy with the results that they forewent a second.
That first take became the first track on the album. “Cicada” steals into being the way the insect itself patiently develops underground, gradually emerging to shed its exoskeleton—a process shown in the accompanying poem. Eckemoff opens the tune with an insouciant piano melody worthy of Fauré, Andersen provides sonorous bass support, and the two float atop a restless current of percussive interplay. A minute and a half in, we hear a sound familiar from Everblue: Jon Christensen breaking away into a series of off-kilter drum exclamations. As on that record, Christensen here’s the wild card, playing not always with but often fascinatingly against Eckemoff’s and Andersen’s synergy, agitating otherwise calm waters. As the drummer’s double in this not-a-trio, Thomas Strønen complements his elder colleague, filling in gaps and reconciling him to the music’s main thrust. In its melodious, meandering way, “Cicada” sets the template for the whole album: intimate dialogue between piano and bass, enriched with busily cross-hatched percussion textures.
Another track comes across appropriately more weightily: “Grizzly Bear,” which opens with Andersen’s ponderous bass pattern mimicked by Eckemoff’s left hand on the keyboard’s low end. Gradually she ascends into higher regions and breaks into a yearning, aspirational melody—maybe her most gorgeous on this gorgeous album. The melody soars aloft a couple of times, but otherwise the track remains grimly earthbound; after all, Eckemoff (as we know from her poem) is illustrating a mother bear’s arduous quest amid diminishing resources for a place to hibernate and let her cub gestate, a quest punctuated by rays of hope—and enlivened by the eccentric dual drumming of the boys in the isolation booth.
“Grizzly Bear,” by the way, finds a companion piece in “Sea Turtle.” Clocking in at 8:24, this is the second-longest Nocturnal Animals track and exhibits a suite-like sense of epic development as it documents a female sea turtle’s quest to lay and bury eggs and her eventual return to the sea.
The album’s longest—and perhaps slowest—track, “Rattlesnake” proves similarly dramatic, with Soviet conservatory-trained Eckemoff’s steely old-world pianism capturing this creature’s defensive, solitary survivalist spirt. But there’s playfulness too, as the instrumentalists overtly mimic the snake’s frenzied efforts to shed its skin. Snares and toms jerkily channel the animal’s minatory movements; rattling percussion, forebodingly deep-toned piano and restless bass fingerwork convey the reptile’s helpless sense of unease. Vividly illustrative of the pianist’s poem “Rattlesnake,” the tune works just as engagingly as absolute music: even if you haven’t read the words, this music creates a sense of unease, leaving you uncomfortable in your own skin.
Jon Christensen, Yelena Eckemoff, Arild Andersen and Thomas Strønen at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Perhaps Nocturnal Animals’ most ambitious piece, “Wolf” starts eerily with upper-range, spectral piano and hectic bass interjections, prefacing a winding piano-led narrative that seems to picture the wolf and its prey from a great height. At 2:20 the piano unspools a contemplative melodic line—the calm before a storm, for the “Wolf” poem emphasizes the predator’s patient, methodical surveillance of a deer herd. The storm hits with Lisztian force two minutes later as Eckemoff’s fingers hammer the keyboard, sweepingly completing two descending runs with grand Romantic force. The drama’s aftermath proves eerily loose-ended as Christensen launches unhurriedly into a concluding drum solo that, according to the pianist, was entirely impromptu and extended the piece beyond its intended bounds. The paucity of Christensen’s recent recorded output—which includes a couple of ECM dates with guitarist Jakob Bro (Gefion, 2015; and Returnings, 2018) and two marvellous trio turns with Arild Andersen and pianist Carsten Dahl on Storyville Records (Space Is the Place, 2012; and Under the Rainbow, 2013), as well as Eckemoff’s Everblue—makes all the more precious his maverick presence at April 2018’s Nocturnal Animals session.
The next track, “Hedgehog,” succeeds the Romantic intensity of “Wolf” with Neoclassical sprightliness, the pianist’s technique turning from moodily evocative to crisply mischievous. This piece generates greater headlong momentum, owing to Strønen’s straight-ahead technique. Here and on “Fox,” Eckemoff opted for just the one drummer to allow “a break from [the] sophisticated textures two drummers created playing together and achieve more transparent and swingy drum support in these particular tunes.” Her music pictures the hedgehog in a tricksterish light, and likewise “Fox” conveys the requisite slyness. Eckemoff’s initial jabbed piano notes sound appropriately cocky, and the tune as a whole—like her poem—portrays this creature as wily, restless and fast-acting. With swinging ivories, walking bass and ringing ride cymbal and rim shots, this tune comes as close to straight-ahead bebop piano trioism as Nocturnal Animals gets. There’s even a conventional succession of solos from all three players, Strønen’s in particular sounding hard-driving and precise. On the sleekly fleeting “Lynx”, the other up-tempo piece, Christensen joins back in and the drummers take their tightest tandem turn on the album, interacting so closely as to sound like one.
The follow-up track “Firefly” is fleeting in a different fashion. Here’s a slow, fragile study in paradoxical ephemerality where time seems to stand still yet the titular insect appears and disappears instantly. This exquisite musical statement starts in mid-sentence, with the first note played on bass and sounding like part of an in-progress Andersen solo. Before long the piano enters with gentle steps and commences a tender tune couched continuously in crepitant, flickering percussive touches. According to the pianist, both “Firefly” and “Walkingstick” were recorded with Christensen alone; additional percussion was overdubbed by Strønen later on. But of the four musicians, Andersen here predominates: the Norwegian giant restlessly roams this nocturnal landscape, soloing on and off throughout. Ultimately he ascends the fingerboard to signal song’s end; he reaches for his highest note and the firefly winks out.
One can’t stress enough how central Arild Andersen is to this record, and to the other four Yelena Eckemoff albums he anchors. In fact, their collaborations seem to account for much of his recorded output during the 2010s, alongside those aforementioned Dahl/Andersen/Christensen discs and several Andersen-led ECM trio dates with saxophonist Tommy Smith and the late drummer Paolo Vinaccia (you can read about their 2014 release Mira in my Wall of Sound review). His is a distinctive sound—companionable yet desolate, amiable yet lonely—which, delivered with rock-solid yet dynamic technique, ideally complements Eckemoff’s disciplined approach to the keyboard and to composition.
Each new Yelena Eckemoff release immediately becomes my favourite, so Nocturnal Animals is my favourite for now. Consider the sterling pianism, double bass virtuosity and quirky dual drum kit setup (when is a piano trio not a trio?). Consider the allure of Eckemoff’s compositions, replete with accessible themes yet rich in intricate incidental detail. Consider the artisanal charm of L & H Production’s CD packaging, which reproduces not only all fourteen creature poems but also an aptly moonlit landscape painting (likewise the pianist’s own work). And consider the sound of this recording, engineered by one of the late greats to capture the music with clinical clarity and ambient warmth. What’s not to love?! Across two discs, Nocturnal Animals assembles an embarrassment of riches. When your speakers spill forth this binaural bounty, you may well find a new favourite of your own.
The activities of pianist, composer, but also painter and poet Yelena Eckemoff, born in Moscow and since 1991 living and creating in North Carolina (USA) in the field of jazz music, take place according to strictly defined rules, free from the influence of classical jazz keyboard masters and showing her personal perception of improvised music. Her subsequent albums, produced by the best sound engineers, are recorded in prestigious US and European studios, and are released by her own label L & H Production.
Phenomenal artist who has albums with many excellent musicians of the world jazz scene (including Billy Hart, Tore Brunborg, Ben Street, Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Peter Erskine, Paul McCandless, Ralph Alessi, Manu Katché and Joey Baron), at the beginning of 2020, she presented her next musical work to the world!
She recorded her next (fifteenth) fully conceptual album in the Rainbow Studio in Norway, and filled 14 with her own compositions, composed of friends musicians: the double bass artist Arild Andersen known from previous albums and two drummers: Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen.
The music that completes the 2-album album “Nocturnal Animals” is inspired by the night life of various animals and insects and is an attempt to audibly penetrate the way they perceive the world. Each of the 14 elaborately prepared and instrumentally composed compositions with its melodic line, rhythm and sound, reflects the character and specificity of individual animals and insects. No wonder the pianist decided to invite two drummers to the recording this time.
Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen brilliantly decorate each song with various ornaments, evoking associations with, for example, cicadas (“Cicada”) or a rattlesnake crawling on the grass (expanded to nearly 10 minutes “Rattlesnake.”)
In turn, the double bass by Arild Andersen perfectly reflects the character of the fox walking stealthily at night in the forest undergrowth (“Fox,”) or the monumental character of the predatory bear (“Grizzly Bear.”) Everything is dominated by wonderful piano parts, full of singing melody and peculiar magic specific to Eckemoff.
As always in the case of the pianist’s albums, the beautifully released album is decorated with reproductions of her paintings, and in the booklet attached to the CDs we will find a collection of poetic texts relating to each of the songs.
“Nocturnal Animals” is another, after full of Arabian motifs “Desert,” saturated with spiritual elation “Better Than Gold and Silver,” and recorded in a duet with the French master of drums and percussion Manu Katché “Colors” (2018), the thematic album of one of the most fascinating characters contemporary jazz, filled with excellent music full of feelings and sensitivity.
Poczynania urodzonej w Moskwie, a od 1991 roku mieszkającej i tworzącej w Karolinie Północnej (USA) pianistki, kompozytorki, ale też malarki i poetki Yeleny Eckemoff na polu muzyki jazzowej, odbywają się według ściśle określonych przez nią zasad, wolnych od wpływów klasycznych mistrzów jazzowej klawiatury, a ukazujących jej osobisty sposób postrzegania muzyki improwizowanej. Jej kolejne albumy realizowane przez najlepszych inżynierów dźwięku, nagrywane są w prestiżowych studiach USA i Europy, a ukazują się nakładem własnej wytwórni L & H Production.
Zjawiskowa artystka mająca na swym koncie albumy z wieloma wyśmienitymi muzykami światowej sceny jazzowej (m.in. Billy Hart, Tore Brunborg, Ben Street, Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Peter Erskine, Paul McCandless, Ralh Alessi, Manu Katché i Joey Baron), na początku 2020 roku zaprezentowała światu swe kolejne muzyczne dzieło!
Swój kolejny (piętnasty już) w pełni koncepcyjny album, nagrała w norweskim Rainbow Studio, a wypełniła 14 własnymi kompozycjami, nagranymi w składzie złożonym z zaprzyjaźnionych muzyków: znanego z poprzednich płyt artystki kontrabasisty Arilda Andersena oraz dwóch perkusistów: Jona Christensena i Thomasa Stronena.
Muzyka wypełniająca 2-płytowy album “Nocturnal Animals” inspirowana jest nocnym życiem rozmaitych zwierząt oraz owadów i stanowi próbę dźwiękowego wniknięcia w ich sposób postrzegania świata.
Każda z 14 kunsztownie przygotowanych i opracowanych instrumentalnie kompozycji swą linią melodyczną, rytmem i brzmieniem, oddaje charakter i specyfikę poszczególnych zwierząt i owadów. Nic dziwnego ze pianistka tym razem zdecydowała się na zaproszenie do nagrań aż dwóch perkusistów.
Jon Christensen i Thomas Stronen genialnie ozdabiają każdy utwór rozmaitymi ornamentami, wywołującymi skojarzenia np. z cykadami (“Cicada”), czy pełzającym po trawie grzechotniku (rozbudowany do blisko 10 minut “Rattlesnake”).
Z kolei kontrabas Arilda Andersena perfekcyjnie oddaje charakter stąpającego nocą ukradkiem po leśnym runie lisa (“Fox”), lub monumentalną postać drapieżnego niedźwiedzia (“Grizzly Bear”).
Nad wszystkim dominują wspaniałe partie fortepianu, pełne śpiewnej melodyki i właściwej dla Eckemoff osobliwej magii.
Jak zawsze w przypadku albumów pianistki, pięknie wydany album zdobią reprodukcje jej obrazów, a w dołączonej do płyt książeczce znajdziemy zbiór poetyckich tekstów odnoszących się do każdego z utworów.
“Nocturnal Animals” to kolejny po pełnym arabskich motywów “Desert”, nasyconym duchowymi uniesieniami “Better Than Gold and Silver” i nagranym w duecie z francuskim mistrzem perkusji i perkusjonaliów Manu Katché “Colors” (2018), tematyczny album jednej z najbardziej fascynujących postaci współczesnego jazzu, wypełniony znakomitą, pełną uczuć i wrażliwości muzyką.
Pianist Yelena Eckemoff has band it a point to think and compose outside the box. In fact, I am sure there is no box, only Echemoff’s free expression as fusion between the musical and temporal worlds to achieve a spiritual one. Nocturnal Animals focuses on the living existence of animals that live by night. Eckemoff employs a standard jazz piano trio augmented with an additional drummer (Jon Christensen and Thomas Thomas Stronen). Tactile and timeworthy, the drums provide the time and tempo of life, from quiet rumination to frenetic scurrying, it does not take to much imagination to hear the life in the percussion. That leaves the pianist with bassist Arild Andersen with whom she share much creative empathy. Listen and imagine the lives of the bat, fox, and walkingstick defined through music.
Pianist Eckemoff returns with yet another double disc of meditative & engaging tunes, this time based around animal themes. It is interesting to see where her flights of fancy take her, as if each tune is a soundtrack for that animal. This time out, her quartet is composed of two of the top percussionists in the ECM fold with one of the most accomplished bassists, who shares the spotlight.
If You Like: Julia Hulsman, Keith Jarrett, Eberhard Weber, David friesen
Track Review (favorites denoted by *):
*(Disc 1) 1/ Cicada (8:15) – piano starts> midtempo jam> builds to crescendo> bass solo> midtempo jam> slow fade
**2/ Bat (4:56) – piano starts> uptempo jam shifts in tempo with twists & turns> slow fade
3/ Walkingstick (3:59) – piano starts> slow tempo hesititating jam> quick fade
***4/ Fox (6:10) – bass/drums start> fast tempo jam> swinging piano solo> bass solo> drum/ percussion duet> fast jam> quick fade
5/ Grizzly Bear (6:20) – piano starts> midtempo jam> piano solo> midtempo jam> bass solo> midtempo jam> slow fade
*6/ Rattlesnake (3:04) – drums start> slow hesitating jam> piano/ bass duet> crescendo> slow jam builds to crescendo> midtempo jam slows to slow tempo> crescendo & slow fade
*7/ Wolf (8:24) – pianos starts with cascading notes> midtempo jam with multiple crescendos> bass solo> drum solo to fade
*(Disc 2) 8/ Hedgehog (7:21) – piano starts> midtempo jam> piano solo> bass solo> midtempo jam> quick stop
9/ Toad (4:02) – piano starts> midtempo jam> piano solo> slow hesitating jam> quick fade
*10/ Lynx (6:38) – bass starts> mellow uptempo jam> piano solo> uptempo jam> fade
11/ Scorpion (6:07) – piano starts> slow tempo jam> piano solo> slow jam builds in volume> fade
**12/ Firefly (4:00) – bass/piano starts> midtempo jam> piano solo> bass solo> midtempo jam> fade
*13/ Owl (3:02) – piano starts> slow tempo jam builds to midtempo> piano solo> midtempo jam>
**14/ Sea Turtle (7:33) – piano starts> slow tempo jam builds to uptempo> piano solo> bass solo> midtempo jam mellows> slow fade
She occupies some branches of the arts. Yelena Eckemoff writes, photographs, paints, composes and plays the piano excellently. Initially classical music, after listening to the Mahavishnu Orchestra on the radio and Dave Brubeck Live in Moscow at a young age, she now plays exclusively jazz. In the last four years alone she has released six CDs on her own label. Three of them are double albums. The pianist, now living in North Carolina, seems to be imbued with ideas and full of vitality. And she has an excellent connection to the great instrumentalists of jazz. Because her productions feature names like Chris Potter, Mark Feldman and Ralph Alessi. And again and again important drummers: Manu Katché, Billy Hart, Joey Baron, Gerald Cleaver.
And this hasn’t changed on their latest production “Nocturnal Animals.” Here the pianist has the lighthouse among the European bassists, Arild Andersen at her side. The drums are even doubled, with Scandinavian drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen.
Granted, a rather unusual line-up. But no Rhythmic tumult does change the character of these recordings. For both Christensen and Stronen, who is thirty years younger, play the edges of the music excellently. They make use of the open spaces that the music offers them, or they create them themselves by applying a nuanced sensitivity instead of power struggle. Not that the two couldn’t also swing properly. However, their playing is always accompaniment, there is always a very close relationship with all fellow musicians and even more so with the soloists.
This is of course a great playing field for Yelena Eckemoff. She can touch magically on her instrument, she can act powerfully, or float impressionistically over the keyboard; she knows how to decorate melodic miniatures or formulate brooding thoughts pianistically, or use individual notes to set exclamation points.
The basis for the fourteen compositions on “Nocturnal Animals” are animal portraits, musical studies of the nature of creatures that rule the night. In this respect, a concept album that provides deep insights into the thinking and soul of Yelena Eckemoff. “Nobody knows how and what animals think,” she says in an interview. “But in my poetic writings about them, I see each one as a being with a fascinating personality and they all think and act similarly to people in certain situations.” A musical chamber play, intimate and yet intense.
Sie belegt einige Sparten der Kunst. Yelena Eckemoff schreibt, fotografiert, malt, komponiert und sie spielt ausgezeichnet Klavier. Anfangs Klassik, nachdem sie in jungen Jahren das Mahavishnu Orchestra im Radio und Dave Brubeck Live in Moskaus gehört hat, ausschließlich Jazz. Allein in den letzten vier Jahren hat sie auf ihrem eigenen Label sechs CDs herausgebracht. Drei davon sind Doppelalben. Die heute in North Carolina lebende Pianistin scheint durchdrungen mit Ideen und voller Vitalität. Und sie besitzt einen ausgezeichneten Draht zu den großen Instrumentalisten des Jazz. Denn auf ihren Produktionen lassen sich Namen finden wie Chris Potter, Mark Feldman oder Ralph Alessi. Und immer wieder bedeutsame Schlagzeuger: Manu Katché, Billy Hart, Joey Baron, Gerald Cleaver.
Und das hat sich auch auf ihrer neusten Produktion „Nocturnal Animals“ nicht geändert. Hier hat die Pianistin den Leuchtturm unter den europäischen Bassisten, Arild Andersen an ihrer Seite. Der Schlagzeugpart ist sogar doppelt besetzt, mit den skandinavischen Schlagzeugern Jon Christensen und Thomas Stronen.
Zugegeben, eine eher ungewöhnliche Besetzung. Rhythmische Tumulte bnestimmen den Charakter dieser Aufnahmen jedoch nicht. Denn sowohl Christensen, als auch der dreißig Jahre jüngere Stronen bespielen exzellent die Ränder der Musik. Sie nutzen offene Räume, die ihnen die Musik bietet, oder sie schaffen sie selbst, in dem sie anstatt Kraftmeierei eine nuancierte Sensibilität walten lassen. Nicht dass die beiden nicht auch ordentlich swingen könnten. Jedoch ist ihr Spiel immer Begleitung, gibt es immer eine ganz enge Beziehung zu allen Mitmusikern und erst recht zu den Solisten.
Das ist natürlich eine großartige Spielwiese für Yelena Eckemoff. Sie kann auf ihrem Instrument magisch berühren, kann druckvoll agieren, oder impressionistisch über die Tastatur schweben; sie versteht es, melodische Miniaturen auszuschmücken oder grüblerische Gedanken pianistisch zu formulieren, oder mit einzelnen Noten Ausrufezeichen setzen.
Grundlage für die insgesamt vierzehn Kompositionen auf „Nocturnal Animals“ sind animalische Porträts, musikalische Studien über das Wesen von Geschöpfen, die die Nacht beherrschen. Insofern ein Konzeptalbum, das tiefe Einblicke in das Denken und in die Seele von Yelena Eckemoff gibt. „Niemand weiß, wie und was Tiere denken“, erzählt sie in einem Interview. „Aber in meinen poetischen Schriften über sie sehe ich jedes einzelne als ein Wesen mit einer faszinierenden Persönlichkeit und sie alle denken und handeln ähnlich wie die Menschen in bestimmten Situationen.“ Ein musikalisches Kammerspiel, intim und trotzdem intensiv.
Since 2005, pianist, composer, and bandleader Yelena Eckemoff has produced and released her own recordings via her L&H label. Further, she is an accomplished poet whose works are often added as supplementary, illuminating liner notes. She also paints her own album covers in a distinctive yet mysterious style that references the music. She’s released well over a dozen albums — most are conceptual — and she’s accompanied by an astonishing array of jazz musicians, many of whom come from ECM’s large stable.
Nocturnal Animals is a double-length, 14-tune set whose subjects are the creatures of the night, with bassist Arild Andersen, and drummers/percussionists Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen. She has worked with the bassist and Christensen before.
Eckemoff’s tunes are complex and multi-dimensional; they reflect her substantial classical training, as well as her love for folk and sacred music, expressed in painstakingly annotated compositions, syncopation, and improvisation.
Nearly 90 minutes long, these 14 quartet pieces range across the spectrum without forsaking an implied intimacy that always engages her listeners immediately. Disc one’s opener, “Cicada,” is songlike in its unfolding, adorned with brushed drum fills, chord voicings that unveil themselves gradually, and a bassline that is as melodic as it is rhythmic. By contrast, “Walkingstick” begins abstractly before undergoing a kind of processional transformation with elliptical percussion. “Fox” is a hard-swinging post-bop number that illuminates the high level of interplay between the rhythm section’s players. “Rattlesnake” is a vanguard ballad that floats in time as Andersen and Eckemoff trace an off-minor frame, allowing spaces between instruments to become part of the flow of improvisation. Disc two’s opener, “Hedgehog,” marries folk song to classical harmony and jazz syncopation with a studied yet mischievous elegance. Andersen’s intro bassline in “Lynx” is almost funky, but the piece unfolds as a knotty series of interlocking grooves that evoke drama, caress the blues, and evoke a sense of lyricism akin to that of Francy Boland or Gil Evans. By contrast, “Toad” is nearly majestic in its explication. Closer “Sea Turtle” emerges from the dimly lit shadows in an expressionist conversation framed not by the composer’s elliptical lyricism, but through Andersen’s up-mixed bassline that serves as a complement and counterpoint above the two drummers/percussionists that cannily dialogues with itself as much as it does the frontline players. Nocturnal Animals is supplemented by Eckemoff’s evocative free verse; her poetry allows these pieces to enter the world directly, in a variety of sonic dialects. Nocturnal Animals reveals Eckemoff in a heightened state of jazz discovery; it edifies, questions, and ultimately illumines the inherent darkness, mystery, and spirituality of the natural world.