Scott Yanow for Downbeat
Yelena Eckemoff, born in Russia and based in North Carolina, converted to Christianity while still living in Moscow. She has long been interested in setting verses from the Bible’s Book of Psalms to music, composing jazz originals that in some cases are word-for-word musical recreations. In 2018, she recorded many of these compositions on Better Than Gold In
Silver, a set that contained both vocal pieces and instrumentals.
The two-CD I Am A Stranger In This World, which is strictly instrumental, includes three selections that were left off of the earlier set due to lack of space: the title cut, “Like Rain Upon The Mown Grass” and “Every Beast Of The Field.” Those performances team the pianist-composer with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, violinist Christian Howes, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron. The other six numbers were recorded at the height of the pandemic in December 2020 and have Eckemoff joined by Alessi, Gress, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Eckemoff’s originals are full of rich themes and, because these are instrumentals, one does not have to be religious at all to enjoy the music. The melodies often reflect her classical training, the explorations are inventive (particularly those of Alessi), and the interplay between trumpet, guitar and piano often blurs the lines between solos and ensembles, composition and improvisation.