The calibre of the personnel, which includes Nasheet Waits and Ralph Alessi, isn’t at all unusual for this Moscow-born pianist’s ensembles and here her harmony-rich classical-swing jazz influenced compositions provide a kind of unwind for a rugged NYC ensemble, but it has an instant charm.
Russian-born Eckemoff has appeared in these pages before, but her output seems to far outstrip our coverage. Fifteen albums in ten years have appeared on her own L&H label, of which this is No. 15. Having based herself in the US since 1991, she seems to have developed an affinity for a geographical halfway-house in the shape of Scandinavian coworkers, not only the three musicians appearing with her but also the late engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug. The suggestion that this might lead to an ECM sound is only partly borne out by her 14 original compositions, since she clearly prefers a more upfront and heavier piano sound which suits her occasionally stodgy timing. Not every track in these 87 minutes has both percussionists playing together, and their contributions are anyway fairly discreet, but the most interesting presence is that of her frequent sideman Andersen, whose interventions energize the varied material. The track titles all refer to creatures such as ‘Cicada’, ‘Grizzly Bear’ and ‘Hedgehog ‘, but an Eckemoff poem for each in the booklet sometimes says more than the music.
The Russian pianist-composer’s chamber jazz-ish take on verses from the book of Psalms (two CDs, with and without vocal) is pleasantly easy-going yet too undemanding, even if it does offer an impressive array of New York’s leftfield jazz heads, including Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder, Drew Gress and Joey Baron.
Moscow-born, classically trained pianist Yelena Eckemoff displays multiple and multimedia talents on this double-disc release: she composed all the music, wrote poems, reprinted in the accompanying booklet, corresponding to each of the 14 tracks, and created the painting that features on the album cover.
Fulfilling the promise of the collection’s title, the music – and the poems, and that painting- evoke the world of lions. The project was inspired by Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen telling Eckemoff that he had ordered a double bass with a lion’s head carved into its neck; her imagination took fire, although her piano parts here follow a more composed-sounding course and often take a back seat to the improvisatory flourishes of her collaborators, Andersen and US drummer Billy Hart. It’s a charming, smartly executed suite of music, strong on atmospheric scene-setting and shimmering, impressionistic detail, with plenty of beguiling melodic material, though a little more variety in terms of tempo would have been nice.