Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2022
What better gift to receive — having made it through what appears to be the worst of our ongoing, and horribly destructive, global pandemic — than a gift borne of the very opposite of such physical destruction, namely, that of spiritual creation? Yelena Eckemoff’s latest, thoroughly multimedia album is just exactly what the doctor ordered…
Ms. Eckemoff features yet again a combined synthesis of the most advanced presentation of contemporary jazz (more about that soon), her own illustrations of the theme du jour (natural beauty), and her original poetry to accompany and amplify the former. A total package!
In fact, if as Oscar Wilde observed — “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” — then how else can I explain that my own daughter, Amanda, and I have managed to keep our souls alive through COVID by co-creating just such a melange of recorded music and poetry (mine) coupled with photographs and artistic treatments (Amanda’s)? Yelena: your intrepid artistry has rubbed off in the most felicitous way imaginable, and we thank you!
Back to the musical portion of Ms. Eckemoff’s latest offering: I have loved every single album of her prodigious career, and yet this newest one may well be my favorite of all. Why is that? Yelena has brought together once again a truly sterling ensemble (this time, from Finland) whose skills and sonorities I find to be the ideal vehicle for the composer’s imagination. Yelena orchestrates her piano-based jazz compositions for a never richer palette of sounds: everything from vibraphone, electric guitar, and Theremin (yes, you heard me correctly!) to stellar support from surely one of my favorite drummers on the planet (Olavi Louhivuori), along with jazz sax and bass contributions that just consistently work.
Yelena has never created such sumptuously gorgeous music right up next to daring avant-garde leaps into the abstract, and back again, quite like Adventures of the Wildflower. From the moment I fired up this new disc, I was taken into what felt like her private universe of highly unusual and personal colors, one more varied than ever before, yet as integrated in overall conception as virtually everyone of her recordings has been. I personally believe it’s Yelena’s deep background in classical music that makes for such rich tapestries in her compositional and arranging skill set. When she combines that, as she consistently does, with an improviser’s heart (and ear)…well, I’m not sure jazz gets much better, nor more rewarding on multiple listenings, than the album I hope you are now holding in your hands. Enjoy!
5.0 out of 5 stars
Title: A Beautiful, Inspirational Bloom
Reviewed in the United States on May 24, 2021
Here again, we have the compositional creativity and melodic mastery as always given to us by Yelena Eckemoff, and presented to us by Yelena and her always excellent selection of sidemen. This collection blooms for the listener from Ethereal to Avant Garde and even a touch of Fusion, all swirling around a core of pure, unfettered jazz.
The musical story presented here by Yelena is peaceful and fun, but it’s the music that just grabs you. The interplay between Yelena and her band is, as always, just top-notch. Her ability to connect with players of like minds and styles is uncanny. While one or two are at the fore, someone is always busy in the background with all sorts of intricacies. The vibraphonist (Panu Savolainen) puts forth his expertise steadily throughout the record, as does the reeds player (Jukka Perko). The often background, but steady and fascinating playing by guitarist (Jarmo Saari) keeps your ears glued to music. And as always the rhythmic core of bassist (Antili Lotjonen) and brilliant drummer (Olavi Louhivuori) keep things pushing forward with panache, elan and with perfect cohesion and force.
At least for this listener, the added bonus is how the story so matches my own here in Vermont. With the change of seasons, our having pollinator gardens that draw hummingbirds and butterflies, it really touches the hearts of my wife and me. As I play it I can see my dog out in the yard, indeed chasing a mouse (or chipmunk, squirrel, etc.), the constant activity of weeding and tending the garden, and just generally being one with nature. Just as when I play this album I feel as one with the music.
Another brilliant showing by Yelena and Co., destined to be one of the most significant albums of 2021.
Another beautiful release from the ever prolific Yelena Eckemoff. Tapped into some primal source of uninterruptible melody that is always entirely original yet somehow deeply familiar, each album is like the next instalment of some patiently understated but ultimately mighty unfolding song. It’s so hard to put one’s finger on exactly what it is that makes her music so special and yet it is important to do so if more people are to be convinced to check out just what they are missing. I described her work to someone as composition led, European chamber jazz. Classically trained in piano and composition her works breaks the typical jazz formula of ambitious right hand improvisation over chordal grooves and riffs in the left. Her music is properly polyphonic, with ideas moving in from above and below and between both hands, in ceaseless contrapuntal invention. There is improvisation, but the improvisation is always in the service of the composition, and it is often hard to tell where one starts and the other leaves off. As such this does not conform to the standard modern jazz pattern of the song being just a vehicle for improvisation. It is something rather unique.
That is the structure of her music but then there is its character. Everything Yelena does starts and ends with nature, and a life lived easily within its rhythms, in awareness of the miraculous in the everyday. Her music is always kind, gentle, seldom resorting to strident crescendos. There is also humour, wisdom and despite these qualities an earthiness that avoids merely pretty escapism. A thing I admire is despite the predominately spacious feel, and the subtle interplay between musicians it encourages, she doesn’t fall into what I call ‘the ECM trap’ of just making moods with pretty noises soaked in reverb. Music is always central, the momentum of notes and chords coming and going, telling stories. When there is improvisation it is never about testosterone fuelled pyrotechnics or racing to beat one’s own or anyone else’s personal bests. Improvisation is always a means of extending the meaning of the composition. Of making sure the next note or chord is the most interesting, however long it takes to find it. Her ability to find other musicians who stay within the discipline of this aesthetic is itself remarkable.
With this particular album she has gone back to Finland to work within a six-piece context whose core is the guys with whom she made Blooming Tall Flox; my erstwhile favourite, if just because it was the first I heard. With this many players there is a sense of orchestration, of instruments moving in and out in varying combinations that is rather different in structure from the profound intimacy of her trio work, such as Glass Song. Indeed, in my mind I can hear some of these pieces laid out for orchestra. It would be fascinating to see how she communicates her intentions in the studio to her players because what she gets out of them is in no way typical of the usual ‘jazz gig’.
Again, the album is packaged with Yelena’s own exquisite artwork and the little prose poems that set the scene for each track. This multimodal aspect of her work is, it seems to me, is more than just embellishment. Rather, they are aspects of a deeply unified creativity lived in service of a quiet but powerful spiritual vision. I found myself wondering who her classical influences might be; the tender side of Beethoven occurred to me. But, curiously I realised the artist who most comes to mind is William Blake, who of course is not a composer at all.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Title: The jacket and the performance are great.
Reviewed in Japan on August 28, 2019Verified Purchase
I didn’t know this pianist, but I bought six copies since then when I happened to hear this play in a CD store. I was attracted to the beauty of the jacket, and I was also interested in female pianists. Classical with jazz scent, it’s great. The first CD I heard was GLASS SONG.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Reviewed in Japan on August 28, 2019Verified Purchase
5.0 out of 5 stars
Title: A Genuinely Historic Document!
Reviewed in the United States on March 22, 2020 Format: Audio CD
There are few jazz music labels that are revered, and instantly recognized, by jazz aficionados…and even fewer recording engineers that have earned universal respect from music-lovers across the world. ECM Records, helmed by producer Manfred Eicher, is the former. His go-to engineer for the past half-century, Jan Erik Kongshaug, the latter.
ECM is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, with feature articles in every major jazz magazine, including DownBeat and Jazz Times, and commemorative concerts around Europe and the United States. (I just caught their representatives here in southern California, at the Blue Whale Jazz Club in Los Angeles.)
Dear Mr. Kongshaug has, sadly, just passed.
His loss — to all who have looked forward to his every production these past decades — is inestimable.
I, myself, made a personal pilgrimage to Oslo, Norway, exactly ten years ago. Having corresponded with Jan Erik prior to my travels, I was so gratified that he welcomed me to visit him at his world-renowned Rainbow Studios (in Oslo). As fate would have it: there is only one other fellow Norwegian who could possibly have trumped my meeting Mr. Kongshaug…and yes, that individual, drumming pioneer, Jon Christensen, agreed to meet me the very same time I had scheduled for visiting Rainbow Studios. I hastily called Mr. Kongshaug with my dilemma, and he beyond generously said: “You’re a drummer, Bob. And you’ve loved Jon Christensen for as long as he has recorded with me. You should meet him instead. I’ll be with you both in spirit.”
Thus it was that I spent several hours, that May afternoon in 2009, with the man who has more deeply influenced my drumming conception than anyone, by far: Mr. Christensen.
All of which brings me to the current review, of dear Yelena Eckemoff’s most recent offering, “Nocturnal Animals.” Yelena’s music has been a fixture in my home this entire, past decade. I’ve been blessed to review several of her prior albums, and am grateful to be doing that again here. But what of the above introduction?
It’s simple, really. Yelena’s piano conception, her depth of field in drawing together classical traditions (including from her native Russia) with jazz execution (she has literally drawn to her side most every jazz luminary worth mentioning these past 10 years) lies at the heart of Manfred Eicher’s original vision for ECM Records, dating all the way back to 1969.
And if that weren’t enough: Yelena has drawn here, with “Nocturnal Animals,” on two of the original cadre of ECM artists — bassist nonpareil Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen (you already know how I feel about him) — along with the next generation vanguard, Thomas Strønen (more about him soon), to create a complete Meisterwerk, exemplary of Eicher’s initial inspiration — all of it recorded for all posterity in what, sadly, represents one of Jan Erik Kongshaug’s final offerings from the mecca of contemporary recording, Rainbow Studios in Oslo!
Can you believe how fortunate we are to have this lasting, truly legacy recording?
Jon Christensen, the quintessential ECM drummer himself, laying down intertwining beds of trans-metrical rhythms…anchored by his successor, even heir apparent, fellow Norwegian Thomas Strønen, whose precision, coupled with utter originality, is itself an absolute wonder.
I love how Jan Erik captured in the left channel, Mr. Christensen, and in the right, Mr. Strønen, as they sing and dance around Ms. Eckemoff’s pianistic journeys. I say “journeys,” because if you stop everything, and pay very close attention, you will find yourself taken on voyages to every continent, every culture, every imagined world with Yelena’s incredibly unique and evocative compositions and expressions on concert grand.
Yelena is the epitome of creative humility: her technique, at the very highest imaginable level, and yet, even with that, her openness to create space for her compatriots.
Speaking of: Arild Andersen — who must surely be the definition of “ageless” — draws from the depths of his instrument…a world of bass. His solos are riveting — and you could literally visit both albums of this 2-CD set and place all your attention on Andersen’s bass contributions, and leave completely filled and satisfied.
Imagine then what it must be like to experience the convergence of four, genuine masters — each of his or her respective instrument — as they roll out deep listening and engagement with one another, unquestioned virtuosity at their fingertips, all in fidelity to Yelena’s unending flow of creative and (even for her) unusually spacious composition.
I cried when I listened to this supernal album. Jan Erik is no longer with us. Jon Christensen nears the end of his recording career (his every solo moment on this album defines tastefulness and grace) – and generously passes the baton onto his friend and protégé, Thomas Strønen. Who knows how much longer we will have dear Arild Andersen with us? (Please don’t miss his sterling contributions to several of Ms.Eckemoff’s prior album masterpieces, including “Glass Song,” “Lions,” “Everblue,” and “Desert.”)
And dear Yelena: for your heart and mind this entire past decade…for your utterly prodigious output at only the very highest quality…for the spirit that suffuses not only your sonic contributions, but also the extraordinary poetry and paintings (all your own) which accompany each of your albums…and yes, for your immortalizing here one of the very final recordings ever by Jan Erik Kongshaug, one of the great engineers of all-time, himself a key architect of “the most beautiful sound next to silence” (ECM Records’ absolutely accurate motto)…for all this and more – blessing upon blessing as you move into the New Year and new decade, beginning most auspiciously with this incredible testimony to modern jazz at its best: “Nocturnal Animals”!
P.S. I write this postscript in March of 2020: the coronavirus pandemic is upon us all. And dear, dear Jon Christensen just passed away one month ago, after a lengthy, severe illness and hospitalization. Ironically, I found out about Jon’s grave illness during an interview with yet another contributor to several of Yelena Eckemoff’s classic recordings, drummer Peter Erskine. Peter informed me initially; then just one week later, Jon passed. As it turns out (and again, quite synchronistically), I was interviewing drummer Billy Hart (also a major contributor to Yelena’s music in recent years) but a week or two later, and mentioned in passing my deep sorrow with Jon’s passing. Billy stopped the interview, thunderstruck, informing me that he had not been aware of Jon’s passing. Three drummers, all three intimately connected to Yelena Eckemoff, all three drumming giants with deep, mutual respect for one another, and for Ms. Yelena. So please add blessed Mr. Christensen to my above dedicatory to Jan Erik Kongshaug: the passing of both lend even further, unfathomable value to this recording you will soon be enjoying. It’s truly an historic document!
5.0 out of 5 stars
Title: Another beautiful set of European chamber jazz
I really can’t believe that two months on i’m first here to be writing a review. Shows that Yelena Eckemoff continues to be the ‘worst’ kept secret in jazz – ‘worst’ because way too few people are aware of her. So, to start from scratch, Yelena is a Russian child-prodigy pianist, classically trained at the Moscow Conservatoire, now living in the US and very much jazz focussed, but a jazz that clearly shows the hallmarks of her classical background. She has recorded prolifically, about an album per year, with a long list of musical luminaries, Pete Erskine, Manu Katche, Arild Anderson, Billy Hart, etc, queuing up to record with her. I get the impression she doesn’t tour which may be why she isn’t better known. She’s clearly happy that the music just gets made and gets out there, and willing to let it take its time to find the audience that just don’t know how much they’re going to love it yet.
I first encountered her music through a facebook music group of broad eclectic tastes but with a natural hub around the ECM musical paradigm. Many of the musicians Yelena has recorded with are old ECM hands, but she herself is not an ECM signing. In fact, while there is much of the gentle, introspective ECM aesthetic to her work there’s a bit more interest to her compositions than the Nordic minimalism which i myself find a bit too empty to fully relate to. Yelena’s music is very much composition led. She is not one for a vamping left hand while her right flies away with pianistic acrobatics. She is much more about carefully constructed counterpoint, where harmonising lines move in and out and are passed from hand to hand in a way that is essentially classical, yet the music is undoubtedly jazz. After the very first YouTube clip i watched her in i made the comment in the group that she reminded me of Thelonious Monk, of whom i am a fan. I didn’t have to listen too much more though to realise that her playing was about as opposite to Monk’s jabbing, staccato, stumbling as it was possible to be. Indeed i have concluded that the artist she most reminds me of, in terms of pianistic control of colour and dynamics is another favourite, Jaques Loussier. This is not at all to say that Yelena’s music is in any way overtly Bach inspired, though i have no doubt that Bach has figured in her training from the start. Rather it is the elegance and mastery of tone that evokes Loussier. Indeed one of her critical characteristics is that her music is so very much her own, her music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.
Her compositions are very elaborate. There are photos of her pieces written out on manuscript paper on an enlarged stand spanning the width of the whole piano. Improvisation does occur, occasionally moving into quite abstract territory, particularly in dialogues with percussion. But it is in fact difficult to tell where the improvisation starts and the composition stops, so interesting is the latter and so well honed to the piece in question is the former. Her music is a remarkable combination of warm elegance and lively exploration. There is a way in which every one of her albums is always reliably the same and always completely different, as indeed is every track. At the bottom of it all one can say that everything she does is beautiful.
Her pieces are always compositions rather than songs, adding a narrative, almost storytelling quality moving from beginning to middle to end. Her albums are always exquisitely packaged with her own artwork that is quite as inimitable as the music, and with a small accompanying prose poem in the booklet to accompany each song which adds a philosophical dimension to the pieces revealing a reverence for nature and natural innocence in its widest meaning. All her albums are gorgeously recorded and are Audiophile artefacts in their own right.
On this double disc album of over 90 minutes, she is joined by the prolific Arild Andersen on bass, and two subtle drummer/percussionists, Thomas Stronen, who is unknown to me and the late, great and much lamented Jon Christensen. In a sense it doesn’t matter where you start with Yelena’s music. Just sample one and, if you’re into deep but intimate, thought-provoking jazz, you will be wanting more.
Yelena’s Nocturnal Animals: After a half dozen listens the first disc has all gelled together in my head and how beautiful it is, I cannot count the ways. As per an earlier observation, it’s almost impossible, particularly with Yelena’s piano to tell what is composed and what is improvised which says a huge amount about the quality of both the composition and the improvisation.
A while back I made a comment, based on first hearing of a single track that I thought she reminded me of Thelonious Monk. Very quickly, hearing more of her work i realised that if anything her sound is about as opposite to Monk as you could get. It’s since occurred to me that the ‘jazz’ pianist she most reminds me of is Jack Loussier, of whom i am a big fan. That is of course not to say that her compositions bare obvious imprints of Bach. No doubt Bach has figured heavily in her education, but compositionally any influence has been fully sublimated. This in itself is a compliment to her individuality. I am talking rather in pianistic terms, of her sound. Of the weight, attack, aftertouch, shimmer and sparkle that is the hallmark of a more European formal training. Despite having made her home in America her music is distinctively European, and her jazz language is the more European kind that began with players like Loussier, and Legrand, and blossoming into what today is most exemplified by ECM and the Oslo sound/scene. Less focussed in the Blues, relating to the Blues when at all ironically more than instinctively.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Title: Beautiful clouds, beautiful shadows
3 November 2019. Format: MP3 Download
Yelena Eckemoff has been one of my most exciting jazz discoveries of the past few years. She is an example of of the more thoroughly compsosed jazz that can come with a classically trained background. Her music is ‘classical’, i.e. notated music that just happens to be played by jazz musicians, i.e. musicians that like to play just a little behind the beat to give a more informal feel than notation itself can reasonably convey. Her compositions are very detailed often featuring quite startling contrapuntal interactions between instrumental lines. Even the solos tend to be played over more rigorously worked out themes than the typical set of repeating chord changes that characterises most jazz improvisation.
The sound world of this particular album/line-up is quite close to that of the Kenny Wheeler of say Angel Song or Widow in the Window, but drawing from a broader palette of moods than Kenny’s rather morose, if beautiful, centre of gravity. This is not so surprising as Kenny was another example of a jazz musician for whom the craft of composition was as important, if not more so, than improvising chops. Also, Yelena’s own approach as a pianist is very remeniscent of John Taylor; relatively sparse but harmonically deep enough to act as a container for everything else that might be going on.
As with most of her albums the package includes Yelena’s rather accomplished artwork and brief prose poems to accompany each track often portraying scenes from her life when growing up as a little girl in rural Russia; something she manages to to make sound idyllic and magical. Despite this, the music sounds neither particularly Russian as we Westerners might stereotypically imagine it, or even American, her present homeland. In fact her music is both timeless and placeless and musicians from all over the world seem to be queing up for a chance to work with her. Some quite notable (as jazz musicians go).
On this album horn is covered by Chris Potter, a musician i was initially reluctant to engage with associating him as i did with Pat Metheny’s retreat into a more parochially White American idiom with his Unity Band (not really Potter’s fault). As a result of listening to this i’ve gone back to Potter’s recent ‘Circuits’ album with a more appreciative ear. Adam Rogers is a guitarist of the John Abercrombie school deepening further the association with Kenny Wheeler. All Yelena’s albums are beautifully recorded and present a wealth of sonic detail for the attentive ear.
Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2021. Verified Purchase
Her music is made by a poet and painter, Yelenaa Eckemoff creates a sense stimulating land, everytime.
5.0 out of 5 stars Both the jacket and the playing content are great.
Reviewed in Japan on August 22, 2019 Verified Purchase
The music contents of jazzy are also great in the classic atmosphere. But none of the cd has changed much. Common points of Scandinavian players. I want players over Bobo Stenson to come out also.
4.0 out of 5 stars Cold Sun
Reviewed in Italy on April 12, 2018 Verified Purchase
Cold Sun: another jewel from the oven by pianist Y. Eckemoff. In trio accompanied by Peter Erskine on drums and Mads Vinding on bass the songs are heard in a very relaxing way. The poetic and melodic vein of the trio is certainly of a high level. That’s a good job. To be heard in silence.
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful
Reviewed in the United States on September 21, 2013 Verified Purchase
I’m always in search for great Piano Trios. This is inline with that tradition. Happily these are not rehashed Jazz Standards but fresh compositions to surely add to your mood.
5.0 out of 5 stars UNIQUE, EDGY, MODERN JAZZ
Reviewed in the United States on July 16, 2010 Verified Purchase
Cold Sun – Yelena Eckemoff, Mads Vinding, and Peter Erskine
Yelena has a new CD out and another one is available for pre-order through Amazon.com. Cold Sun is a collection of jazz pieces with a winter theme. The new CD, Grass Catching the Wind, will feature pieces representing spring, summer, and fall. Yelena, who studied piano at the Moscow State Conservatory, collaborated with Peter Erskine on drums and Mads Vinding on double-bass. Mads Vinding is in Denmark and has 3 Grammy’s to his credit. He has “played with the majority of jazz musicians worth playing with, and today he plays with the ones satisfying his concepts of what music ought to sound like”. Peter Erskine is in California and has also won several Grammy’s. He has worked with Steely Dan, Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell and various symphony orchestras world-wide. The photography on the cover, featuring snow scenes in Blanch, NC was done by Nick Eckemoff. If you are looking for smooth elevator jazz this is not for you, but if you want unique, edgy, modern jazz you should check these out.
5.0 out of 5 stars Not your Grandpa’s Jazz Album
Reviewed in the United States on July 26, 2010 Verified Purchase
This album comprises the next level of Yelena’s journey of redefining her unique style of pleasantly dissonant and highly complex harmonic compositions to perform in a band setting. As a huge fan of her earlier electronic works, I was not initially not all that enthused with the shift to jazz, however that was before I heard this CD. You will want to play it in your car, your art gallery, your home for distinguished dinner guests, even on your iPod on your bike or treadmill. The title track is particularly amazing.
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!!!
Reviewed in the United States on July 18, 2010 Verified Purchase
The music in this CD is as beautiful as the photo on the cover! The titles are perfect for the selections. The music is at times intense and at times so easy to listen to. I can’t wait to hear the next CD from Yelena!Grass Catching the Wind.