Yelena Eckemoff has dedicated a great deal of time to translating disparate concepts into music and free-verse poetry during the past decade. And for Nocturnal Animals, the pianist and her band examine fauna with relish and restraint.
It’d be easy to argue that the music here feels more related to Eckemoff’s anthropomorphizing of animals referenced in song titles than to the creatures themselves. Still, the music is evocative: “Rattlesnake” moves with an ominous slither while tastefully avoiding the obvious percussion implements one might expect. Dual drummers Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen do a lot of heavy lifting, using auxiliary percussion and complex, dancing rhythms to suggest each critter’s essence. And Arild Andersen’s bass lends the music a pleasant rubbery quality, circling around Eckemoff’s left-hand antics, alternating between sturdy support and contrapuntal mischief. The piano is careening but delicate, the bandleader’s right-hand runs occasionally a tad busy. Ultimately, though, Nocturnal Animals is relatively light entertainment, with no grand spiritual or social intentions. It’s just one skilled composer thinking about animals, how they act and what they might think. It’s a fine exercise, and well executed.
MARCH 2020 DOWNBEAT 53