Bill Meredith for Jazziz
Pianist Yelena Eckemoff’s classical training in Russia certainly stands out on her “Flying Steps” CD, but so do the improvisational and interplay capabilities of her trio with bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and drummer Peter Erskine. Any musician’s playing is, by definition, an extension of their personality. Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff’s use of space, texture and harmony on her latest CD, “Flying Steps”, hints at a classical prodigy who earned her Master’s degree from the Moscow State Conservatory. Yet other elements, including her interaction with bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and drummer Peter Erskine, lead the listener to the deeper parts of Eckemoff’s story. One gets the impression that the title of every composition has special meaning for the pianist. The disc’s opening “Promise” breaks from a relaxed swing feel into a tango accented by Erskine’s brush strokes on the snare drum; “A Smile” opens with the versatile drummer’s lonely taps on a cymbal before expanding through Oleszkiewicz’s perfectly-placed punctuations and Eckemoff’s lyrical lines. The temptation is to classify this as chamber jazz, yet the disc takes a detour every time it approaches such a classical-meets-swing hybrid. “Good Morning,” dedicated to Eckemoff’s son Anthony, veers from the precipice through high-pitched piano accents that hint more at gospel, or even electronica. On “For Harry,” her dedication to her husband, the rhythm section sounds like it’s eavesdropping for the first three minutes, but Erskine and Oleszkiewicz then kick into an assertive midsection that prefaces a stellar solo by the drummer — who’s been the rudder for some of the top fusion (Weather Report) and pop (Steely Dan) acts in the world. Eckemoff dedicates the waltzing title track to Erskine, and the poignant ode “Tomorrow” to Oleszkiewicz, to close the disc in true team fashion. “Flying Steps” is a democratic, ECM-inspired statement by a true jazz original, on which even the pianist’s sacred musical inspirations (she and her husband converted to Christianity and fled the former Soviet Union 20 years ago) and MIDI-enhanced virtual orchestra nuances occasionally fly by.