Yelena Eckemoff is a Russian-born pianist who came to improvised music a bit later in her development. Her larger project is fascinating—she paints, writes poetry and stories, engages in vocal music related to Christianity, and works with jazz musicians, even if her pianism sounds fluidly jazz-ish rather than squarely in or from that tradition. As on last year’s I Am a Stranger in This World, Eckemoff presents melodic/harmonic constructions on this new two-disc-length collection that are intriguing and fluent in their movement across influences: I think that even someone not knowing her history would suspect that she comes from a world of European composition. The 2022 session featured Ralph Alessi’s trumpet, electric guitars from Adam Rogers and Ben Monder, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits. And the power of this new album is also in its conception and gathering of collaborators.
Ben Street (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) are a firm rhythm section, over which ensemble playing and improvising from cornet specialist Kirk Knuffke and Masaru Koga on Japanese flutes takes center stage. Knuffke is tonally varied and conversational, finding fascinating melodic pathways through the songs, and Koga is astonishing. The Japanese flute is akin to a recorder and produces a complex tone that is rarely heard in jazz.
My favorite tracks are “Empty House”, on which both horns interact and Eckemoff layers a Rhodes or “Ampli-celeste” and piano together to create a web of tones. Tempos are moderate throughout this double-length session, so perhaps there is a little too much of a good thing on Lonely Man. Eckemoff records for her own label and handles all the production, all the artwork, and some of the photography. What is mostly sublime can lean toward being indulgent after a while, but having too much of a good thing isn’t all that bad.