Berthold Klostermann for Stereo, November 2018 issue
A multi-talent, even if she doesn’t shine equally in every field, Yelena Eckemoff brings her talents together on her albums: she writes the material, plays the piano, designs the cover with naive impressionistic landscape painting, writes sometimes a poem for each piece, produces the whole thing and publishes it on her own label. Russian composer and pianist of the best piano school in Moscow, she had already studied almost all genres before moving to the USA in 1991 and turning to jazz almost ten years ago. Since then, she has been able to win the most renowned musicians of the Nordic and New York scene as accompanists. This is also the case here, but this time, in addition to renowned jazz soloists, she also brings in a mezzo-soprano and a tenor. For she has set biblical psalms to music and thus turns to sacred terrain. The result is far removed from all “jazz mass” clichés. Eckemoff has selected ten psalms and presents them in two versions: CD 1 contains vocal versions, CD 2 instrumental versions. For the former she created cantabile as well as faithful word-for-word settings based on the texts of the King James Bible, which is “official” in the Anglo-Saxon area, and which Kim Mayo (Mezzo) and Tomäs Cruz (Tenor) alternately, once in duet, give a beguiling expression to. On CD 2, the exquisite instrumentalists take on this role, preserve the vocal, sometimes even earworm like gesture of the themes and allow themselves more room for improvisation. Thus Ben Monder ensnares the “voices” of trumpeter Ralph Alessi or violinist Christian Howes with intricate lines. Even worldly listeners should listen attentively.