Mark Sullivan for All About Jazz
Composer and pianist Yelena Eckemoff’s Colors (L&H Production, 2019) was a duet with drummer Manu Katche, a unique instrumentation in her ever-growing list of works. His contributions were so singular that when she had an opportunity to celebrate the album release by playing the music live at KITO in Bremen, Germany in 2019, and he could not make the gig, she opted to play solo rather than hire another drummer. It was the first time in about 15 years that she took the stage as a piano soloist, because she stopped performing as a classical concert pianist after starting her jazz journey.
For this live performance, she kept the track order of the original album, because the story behind the album represented colors as stages of life, from birth (white) to death (black). Not having a drummer keeping time, she played more freely, focusing on nuances of the phrasing. The chosen tempos were quite different (often faster) to when playing with Katché. Despite this, the lengths of the pieces were close to the recordings for the most part, which probably illustrates the strength of the compositional structures.
The opener “White” is an exception to this rule, running a little over half the length of the recording. Much of the time difference can be explained by the pacing. The duet version featured call-and-response, with the theme introduced after some preparation. The solo version launches into the theme almost immediately, and Eckemoff’s playing is loose and rhapsodic. While recognizable as the same composition, the solo treatment casts a new light on it.
“Orange” maintains its blues feeling from the original, as does “Green.” “Blue” is another track which is rendered in a more compact form as a piano solo, but here the form defines the music, producing a version close to the original. So it continues through the finale, “Black,” in which Eckemoff concludes the spectrum in a reflective mood, although thankfully not as gloomy as the color theme implies. The original duet performance spotlighted Eckemoff as both pianist and composer; this solo version does so even more strongly. It is a worthy addition to her discography, sure to interest any fans of her work.