Beyond her obvious skills – sophisticated pianist, composer, writer and painter – Yelena Eckemoff’s greatest strength may be an ability to draw on life’s surroundings to guide and enrich the aural experience. This prolific artist’s work is constantly nurtured by environment – hers and ours, collectively – and she’s always uncovering narratives hidden within. One need only look at Eckemoff’s discography to glean that information. She captured the temperature of a persistent winter in a trio with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine on 2010’s ‘Cold Sun’; harnessed the light in emotion with help from tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, vibraphonist Joe Locke, bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy Hart during 2014’s ‘A Touch of Radiance’; explored the divine beauty of shores and tides in the company of saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen on 2015’s ‘Everblue’; and defined life in varied shades with drummer Manu Katche through 2019’s ‘Colors’. That list barely scratches the surface considering that Eckemoff delivered 15 releases between 2010 and 2020, but it clearly makes the point.
So too does this evocative and absorbing double-album. Reuniting with vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori, who assisted the pianist in making musical sense of scents on 2017’s ‘Blooming Tall Phlox’, and adding two more notable Finns-saxophonist Jukka Perko and guitarist / multi-instrumentalist Jarmo Saari – Eckemoff sets off to tell the tale of a wildflower’s life and times. The perennial, given the fitting name Columbine, starts out as a seed seeking full life. Eckemoff and company conjure the warm glow of its growth in moving from mellow and curious environs to brighter atmospheres on the “In the Ground” opener. At the other end of the program, with seedlings at the aged protagonist’s side, the music dances to the pulse of life in “Baby Columbines”. Between those points, there’s much to admire in exchanges, improvisations and composed expressions. “Germination” peaks out in different directions, with sprigs represented in jangles and angles. “Rain” falls gently, early, in simple motivic play and development. “Drought” sounds to arid climates and, later, reflection. And “Buds and Flowers” presents as a fantastical gardenscape.
This music, rich in representation, is magical and Eckemoff and company blossom right along with it.
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THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD MARCH 2021