“You’re busy appearing or you’re busy disappearing.” Drummer-bandleader Art Blakey may have said that; if he didn’t, he should have. Somebody had to express the importance of presenting your work, for getting it out there to an audience. This goes for virtually any artist in any medium. Double down on that for people who create jazz.
Pianist Yelena Eckemoff rolls with the “busy appearing” concept. She is prolific; since her debut recording , Cold Sun (L & H, 2010), she has released fourteen more albums, employing some of the finest sidemen the world of jazz has to offer: drummers Peter Erskine and Manu Katche, bassists Arild Andersen and Mads Vinding, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and more. The names of her accomplices suggest an ECM Records aesthetic, accurately. Eckemoff pens complex tunes which reflect her classical training and, at the same time, seem to have a feeling of a folk music direction. In terms of recording studios, she is no stranger to Scandinavia—ECM Records’ oft times stomping ground—Oslo’s Rainbow Studios, and Petrex Studio in Finland, giving credence to the comparison to Manfred Eicher‘s label.
Nocturnal Animals, another in a string of albums built around a thematic concept, is a double disc featuring bassist Arild Andersen once more, and two drummers who have often recorded under the ECM banner: Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen. The sound they create alongside Eckemoff is subtle, shimmering, translucently gorgeous, featuring Eckemoff displaying her most delicate touch. Bassist Andersen is typically muscular—the backbone of the band—while drummers Christensen and Stronen weave and counter-weave backdrops of diaphanous fabric—a tapestry of spider webs.
Theme wise, Eckemoff searches the souls of the animals of the night: “Lynx,” “Owl,” “Hedgehog,” Grizzly Bear,” “Wolf,” “Rattlesnake.” The album cover features one of her paintings, with a fox backlit to a surreal luminescence by a weak (perhaps mid-winter) setting sun. The included pamphlet features poems she wrote for each composition. She does create a complete and compelling work of art.
Yelena Ecemoff has come a long way from her native Moscow, which she left in 1991. Through her boundless ambition, determination and expansive talent, she has turned herself into a major jazz artist with a consistently outstanding discography which includes Lions (2014), Everblue (2014), Desert (2015)…and Nocturnal Animals, all on her own L & H Records label.