The seeds of pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff’s Adventures Of The Wildflower were planted in 2013, when she traveled to Hollola, Finland, to record Blooming Tall Phlox (L&H Productions, 2017) with a group of young Finnish musicians. Several Eckemoff albums came about after that recording, but the experience with her Finnish friends must have exerted a sort of gravitational pull, and in 2019 she made a return trip to the country to team with vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori —who had all participated in Blooming Tall Phlox—and newcomers to her world, multi-instrumentalist Jarmo Saari (guitars, theremin, glass harp) and saxophonist Jukka Perko, who took trumpeter Verneri Pohjola‘s ‘horn” spot in the ensemble.
Eckemoff does concept albums: Lions (2015), Colors (2017), Desert (2018), all on L&H Productions. It is more of the same with The Adventures Of The Wildflower, a deep exploration of the journey of a Columbine flower from babyhood to maturity, as she (note the anthropomorphization) observes the natural world surrounding her. A fanciful idea, perhaps, but not without artistic forerunners—the concept of the potential for plant sentience has been artistically explored on Stevie Wonder‘s soundtrack album Journey Through “The Secret Life Of Plants” (Tamla, 1979), and with science fiction novelist Gregory Bendford’s speculative Marsmat, an algae-like growth on the planet Mars that could communicate, planet-wide, with its fellow “Mats.” This in his novels Martian Race (1999) and The Sunborn (2005).
The two disc set begins distinctively, with the eerie wavering of a theremin rising above the ensemble sound. To those hanging out at the shore and grooving to the Beach Boys in 1966—or for anyone else in that timeframe with access to a radio—the theremin was instrumental (hah!) in the success of the Beach Boys’ song “Good Vibrations,” the group’s third number one hit single. Its eerie, space-age warble sounds like cosmic rays, or a death beam from an attacking UFO, 1950s sci-fi B movie style. Something of a gimmick then, but not so for Eckemoff, or from Jarmo Saari, who incorporates that sound to the mix with a deft hand. And, in part, this new sound, used texturally and sparingly inside Eckemoff’s well-shaped arrangements, is a part of what sets Adventures Of The Wildflower above the pianist’s earlier work, as does Saari’s guitar and glass harp, Panu Savolainen‘s luminous vibraphone, Jukka Perko‘s understated but always tasty soprano and tenor sax contributions, combined with the subtle ensemble acumen of drummer Olavi Louhivuori and bassist Antti Lotjonen. Add to this Eckemoff’s growth and freedom as a composer/arranger.
The eighteen Eckemoff compositions here are some of her most abstract and sometimes asymmetrical (but beautiful) offerings—consider the Columbine flower that boasts a delicate and lovely symmetry; the wild plant from which it blossoms that does not. Taken as a whole, the two disc, two hour set creates intricately placid, mysterious and modernistically spiritual feeling—a chamber jazz from a mid-twenty first century church. It is sometimes playful, and could, at times, fit into the “exotica” category of sounds—an exotica influenced, Henry David Thoreau-like, by the everyday goings on in the confines of the church of Yelena Eckemoff’s backyard, in tunes entitled “Germination,” “Dog Chasing A Squirrel,” “Chickens,” (yes, her chickens get some glory here, says Eckemoff, with a twinkling eye and a merry laugh), “Butterflies” and “Children Playing With Seed Pods.” Things that could be considered mundane, if the artist in Eckemoff hadn’t revealed though her complex and unconventionally beautiful music, her sounds full of joy and wonder, that they are not.
Eckemoff includes in the album packaging her poems and her paintings, following the Columbine plant’s life journey—an effort worthy of a children’s (or an adult’s) book.