Cold Sun could readily be considered as a concept album, if that term hadn’t been so abused over the years. Pianist Yelena Eckemoff has taken her inspiration for these ten original tunes from the winter season—perhaps in her native Russia, perhaps from her adopted homeland of North Carolina—and conjures up many different images of winter in her sparse and delicate trio arrangements. The starkly beautiful photographs on the CD cover give a clear indication of the music within, while the crystal clear production—sound engineer Rich Breen deserves a name check for this—means that each instrument comes across perfectly.
Other reviewers have alluded to the ECM-like qualities of this album, and the comparison has merit: the young Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski is an obvious point of reference, for example. Eckemoff, who has recorded classical as well as jazz albums, plays with a delicate touch: each note counts, none is wasted. Drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Mads Vinding make an experienced and exceptionally sympathetic team: Vinding also appears on Eckemoff’s Grass Catching The Wind (L&H Production, 2010), which is inspired by spring, summer and fall. Erskine and Vinding play with similar delicacy and economy, resisting the temptation to add too much even in their occasional solos or in the more improvised passages. The trio offers a master class in the use of space, of which many younger players would do well to take note.
“Winter,” at nearly 14 minutes the album’s longest track, blends passages of great beauty with some of Eckemoff’s most assertive playing, although she stops well short of aggression. The interplay between the three musicians is fascinating and, like much of this recording, reveals more of itself on each listening. The tune, along with “Cold Sun,” suggests complex and dissonant feelings in contrast to the generally brighter and more optimistic tone of the rest of the music.
That optimism is exemplified by the upbeat “Stubborn” which opens with Vinding’s superb bass sound—round, fat, slinky, it’s one of the most gorgeous double-bass tones in jazz—accompanied by Erskine’s funky brush work. Eckemoff adds some stabbing piano lines and the trio gets under way with the album’s most immediately engaging composition. By contrast, “Romance by the Fireplace” is a delightfully seductive late-night tune, with Vinding playing the lead line as Eckemoff and Erskine create a swinging groove. The remaining tunes bring yet more images of winter to the fore with all three musicians proving themselves to be crucial to the overall mood: the exception being the solo piano piece “Snow Bliss,” which Eckemoff plays in a meditative and reflective style.
Winter might well be the inspiration, but the music on Cold Sun is strangely warm and comforting as well as beautiful.