Russian born pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff was classically trained before moving to the United States in the ‘90s, but has now reached a wonderful blend of her classical skills and background with contemporary jazz approaches.

Her latest concept album is a tribute to the Arabian Desert with a series of thematically linked compositions. The moods leave no room for anything but visions of sand, expanses, and the people who live there. Eckemoff’s quartet has Paul McCandless on oboe, English horn and saxes, Arild Andersen bass and Peter Erskine drums. The inclusion of McCandless’ oboe is an inspired move.

Eckemoff says, “I thought of Paul McCandless and his oboe, on which he is so expressive, and decided this is the sound I wanted. Peter (Erskine) helped me connect with Paul, who really is the reason for this group. As for Arild (Andersen) and Peter, they had just the right voices for my melodies and compositions. I feel like when I have these guys around, I can do anything.”

Titles such as Bedouins, Mirages, Desert Cry, Oasis, Dust Storm and others all evoke the corresponding feelings. At times dissonant, but overwhelmingly melodic, this is current jazz at the highest level of both sophistication and visceral imagery. The seamless mix of all the musical influences in her life makes Eckemoff’s music simply extraordinary. Highly recommended.

****1/2 out of five stars

Steam these: Bedouins, Dance



Keith Black for Winnipeg Free Press