Yelena Eckemoff

Adventures of the Wildflower (L&H Production)

Pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff was classically trained in Russia before moving to the United States with her family. Since then she has developed a constantly growing and well-earned jazz reputation. This album is arguably her most ambitious and extended. Her pattern over her last few releases has been to develop a theme through the scope of the compositions. This two-CD album builds on the thematic style by basically following a sequential story. The music follows the growth of her columbine flowers from planting and germination through all the seasons and complexities of the garden environment to the eventual end of the life cycle. Eckemoff’s compositional skills are wonderful here – evocative, sensual, moving and gentle as needed. Rain opens with obvious “rain drops” and develops into the complete feeling of the nourishment of this garden necessity.
Eckemoff has the backing here of a Finnish quintet: Jukka Perko, saxes; Antti Lötjönen, bass; Panu Savolainen, vibraphone; Olavi Louivuori, drums; and Jarmo Saari guitars, theremin and glass harp. They are a treat, working with this material in complete empathy with the topics and Eckemoff’s direction. Titles are simple and define the mood of the track: Chickens, Thundershower, Winter Slumber, Waking Up in the Spring all set the mood clearly. Drought is tense and dissonant in an extended description of troubled emotions.
While beautifully melodic, the harmonic variations, dissonant passages and rhythmic changes are fully contemporary. The effect in all cases, however, is to make you smile or recognise the intent of what are lovely tone poems. The flitting ¾-time of Butterflies is perfect. The tangible truth here is that these compositions and the skill with which they are presented show a real love of the concept and the theme. Eckemoff has developed into a major compositional force in the jazz world as well as bringing exceptional pianistic skill. This is a beautiful release.

★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Hummingbirds, Winter Slumber