(Multiple Reviews)

Title: Yelena Eckemoff And Cory Smythe: Imagination Unbound

Yelena Eckemoff and Cory Smythe have configured mirror images in music that reflect global mindsets of race, gender and class in the wake of COVID lockdowns and in the midst of climate change (among other controversies). The former postulates an insular existence populated only by a single individual and a sole figure with whom he finds empathy, while the latter formulates a world vision from a single point of view scanning the boundaries of culture(s). In keeping with the various perceptions arising from the main characters in their dramatic narratives, layered arrangements featuring an often exotic variety of instruments illustrate in great detail the challenges of contemporary existence(s). Eckemoff and Smythe have thus depicted worlds in constant change, but also proffered some tangible comfort in the sounds of their songs, while at the same time proffering an implicit bond between listeners of these imaginative works and the musicians who’ve brought the material to life.

The beauty of pianist/composer Eckemoff’s ambitious work here is that the carefully-crafted, multi-leveled concept never impinges upon the flow of the musicianship. Quite the contrary, as the arrangements not only further the colorful narrative (chapters of which consist of prose and paintings in the accompanying thirty-two page booklet), but also demonstrate how such detailed charts, in the right hands, replicate the open-ended spontaneity of improvisation. Toward that end too, the variety of instruments—various Japanese flutes by Masaru Koga, electric and acoustic bass plus multiple keyboards from the composer/bandleader—provide as much backdrop as pertinent detail to the unfolding storyline: the familiar sound of Kirk Knuffke’s cornet (almost) offsets the oddity of certain tones and textures that permeate an environmental maelstrom no longer as familiar as it used to be prior to marked change. A near-perfect clarity and balance of recorded sound pervades the ninety-some minutes on two CDs, a logical reflection of this artist’s overall creative lucidity.