Yelena Eckemoff lives In the Shadow of a Cloud. She’s an amazing woman. Leaving her country, her job, her family and her safe secure life in Russia to emigrate to North Carolina with her husband in 1991, she’s put out 11 CDs, starting out classical and ending up jazz. She’s a pianist, composer, label owner, (her own L&H Productions), band leader, producer and arranger. She painted the beautiful painting that graces the cover. She wrote a poem for each of the 14 tracks on this sumptuous two-CD set that fills a 28-page accompanying booklet. She recruited masters for each instrument yet they all coalesce into a cohesive whole: prime New York in-demand cats like Chris Potter on reeds and flute, Adam Rogers on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Tough to pick a highlight when every single track is so engrossing, but “Acorn Figures,” like the liner notes say, is a “jazz sonata for quartet.” Her classical motifs have never left her, and this makes her latest project oh so delectable.
Russian poet Yelena Eckemoff has been playing classical piano her whole life until 2010 when she became a jazz musician. ‘Everblue’ is a beauty.
Question: Is it jazz or is it classical? Pianist Yelena Eckemoff started out within the confines of classical music, adhering to the strict notations of whatever composer she magnificently performed. This was back in her native Soviet Union. Continuing to play and compose classical, ambient and world music after she emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, it wasn’t until her 2010 Cold Sun that her fingers started improvising. Six albums later, Everblue (released through L&H Production) fuses both her worlds together. You could call it a classical jazz hybrid if you want.
Working with the Norwegian dream team of saxophonist Tore Brunborg, acoustic bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen, Eckemoff’s interactive conversation with her band informs a scenario that encompasses the ocean and nature (animals, birds, winds and ghosts). Her poetry graces the CD booklet with a poem for each piece of this land- and sea-scape, a friendly environment where “our consciousness constantly searches and yearns for the divine, unspeakably beautiful eternal.” She calls it Everblue. Pockets of energy are compacted within the mix before they recede like waves.
Drummer Christensen and bassist Andersen first made their considerable mark with fusion pioneer Jan Garbarek in the 1970s. Here, the drummer giveth yet taketh away as his counterpoint cymbal work goes against his own beat during “All Things Seen And Unseen.” It’s a mesmerizing effect.
“Waves And Shells” is a minimalist mystery that moves in many directions simultaneously. A church-like call-and-response brackets the track with the middle being a delectable percussion discussion. “Skyline” certainly ebbs and flows like the ocean itself while “Sea Breeze” is its own world of broken eighth-notes, complete with Christensen’s rolling cymbal triplets.
“The beach sands hiss and moan with pleasure every time the waves crash on them bringing gifts of shells, sea creatures, water plants, and all kinds of things that the ocean has claimed in its possession. Alas, all these visible things are temporal, yet the ocean itself is eternal” –from the poem accompanying “All Things Seen And Unseen.”
Answer: This is jazz.