Mark Keresman for ICON Magazine

Yelena Eckemoff




Here are a couple of jazz key-crackers that seem disparate but aren’t really. Born in Russia but emigrated in 1991 to the USA, Yelena Eckemoff’s grounding is in classical music, but when she saw Dave Brubeck play, jazz became the thing. She didn’t abandon classical completely – she integrated it quite fully into her approach. Which is why Desert, inspired by Middle Eastern music, will invoke Debussy in spots and Brubeck and Bill Evans in others. Like Rimsky-Korsakov, Eckemoff absorbed aspects of Mid-East music in her compositions, much as Brubeck did with his Turkish-inflected classic “Blue Rondo a la Turk”- it’s most definitely jazz but Eastern/North African cultural “echoes” are vivid. Eckemoff’s style has the thickness of notes and compositional straightforwardness of Brubeck and the spare lyricism of Evans. Her band here is aces – Paul McCandless (from the band Oregon), reeds; Arild Andersen (many ECM recordings), bass, and Peter Erskine (Weather    Report, Steps Ahead), drums. This music is stately, yet has a folk-like directness, and McCandless’ plaintive soprano sax and oboe is downright haunting.  (11 tracks, 76 min.)