Karl Ackermann for All About Jazz
A good rule of thumb when exploring new or unfamiliar jazz terrain is to look for either bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz or drummer Peter Erskine among the personnel. Finding both together leads to the very satisfying net results of Yelena Eckemoff ‘s Flying Steps, reuniting the Russian-born pianist with Erskine for their third collaboration. The addition of Oleszkiewicz is a windfall of almost indefinable value, the bassist contributing his experience and versatility as a sideman on more than eighty recordings, including work with pianists Brad Mehldau and Steve Kuhn. In truth, it is the presence of Oleszkiewicz and Erskine that more firmly root Flying Steps in the jazz genre. Eckemoff’s natural style leans closer to classical, as may be expected given her Moscow State Conservatory training in form, theory and composing. Yet, at an early age, she began exploring and honing her skills as a jazz composer while incorporating her classical influences. The resulting compositions are jazz of a more pastoral texture and tone with her rhythm section adding embellishments through intricate and complementary patterns. Erskine is a master of the light touch, meshes nicely with Eckemoff’s similar style on “For Harry,” “Tears Will Come” and “Mama”—all brightly illuminated pieces that Oleszkiewicz holds together while adding just the right amount of density. One of the more interesting aspects of listening to these three musicians work together is their interdependence upon each other’s skills and natural proclivities. Oleszkiewicz does not neatly fit into the role of a rhythm section player, his Like a Dream Cryptogramophone, 2004) demonstrating that this virtuoso bassist is equally at home as a leader. Erskine’s experiences with the fusion styles of Steely Dan and Weather Report broaden the base from which this trio can anchor or shift the momentum of the music. In the final analysis, Flying Steps is a part of Eckemoff’s evolution, the pianist playing to her strengths with conviction and great ability. To her credit, she looks forward in choosing musical company that can move her along without discarding the equity she has built over the years. Eckemoff has always incorporated the principles of progression in her compositions and, with Flying Steps, she does so with her thematic presentation.