Most of Yelena Eckemoff’s recordings feature the pianist playing in ensemble contexts, be it quartet, sextet, or otherwise, and consequently the performances on those releases share their focus between her and the other musicians; of course Eckemoff does solo on those dates, but a generous amount of space is ceded to her accompanists. On the duo recording Colors, however, she’s the dominant voice, and as such the recording emphasizes her playing to a larger degree than usual. Though this puts more pressure on her as a soloist, she doesn’t shrink from the task, and rather than tightening up, her playing feels relaxed, ebullient, and even at times gregarious. Much like on previous releases, her classical training is omnipresent as a foundation, yet while that dimension is present on the album (see the refined “Violet” as an example), her classical-influenced technique is downplayed on Colors, the recording instead emphasizing an informality and spontaneity in approach that’s not unwelcome.
Much the same could be said about the playing of her partner, Manu Katché, who first came to prominence in the ‘80s and ‘90s when his drumming elevated recordings by Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Jan Garbarek, and others. On Colors, he largely devotes himself to following Eckemoff’s lead and adjusting his playing to suit the directions she takes, with an improvised feel infusing the compositions (all credited to Eckemoff). Katché’s a distinctive stylist who can’t help but brand a performance with his personality, but on this date he achieves a well-considered balance between imposition and self-effacement.
Interestingly, while the subject matter has to do with colours, the album trajectory traces life’s stages, from birth and childhood on through first love, adulthood, and the immanence of death. Consistent with that idea, “White,” the unmarked purity of its state redolent of snow, milk, and the blank slate of a newborn, introduces the set with Katché wielding brushes and Eckemoff at her most playful and explorative. The subsequent “Pink,” on the other hand, represents the next stage, the colour in this case associated with the rosy lips of someone leaning over the child and the pink light of the morning coming through the window. In these tracks and elsewhere, the drummer provides a dextrous and ever-evolving yet always solid grounding for the leader’s ruminations and flights of fancy. As the recording advances, our protagonist experiences nature’s verdant abundance (“Green”), romantic disappointment (“Indigo”), the thrill of a night at the disco (“Red”), the pleasure of a good wine (“Bordeaux”), and, inevitably, life’s gradual slowing (“Grey”).
Classical and jazz are the dominant poles of reference on an Eckemoff release, but on this one her playing ventures into blues and even rock’n’roll. In one of the album’s more surprising moves, “Orange” celebrates the joy of youth with the drummer backing the pianists’s rousing lines with a muscular backbeat, while “Indigo” calls forth a soulful, R&B-styled treatment. Colors isn’t without moments of reflection, however, as illustrated by the lyrical, introspective ballad “Blue,” its playful central episode aside.
Her releases are always highly personalized affairs, and this one’s no exception. It comes with a mini-booklet containing colour photographs of the musicians and her professional-calibre oil paintings; also included are texts by the pianist, one for each of the album’s pieces. Recorded over two days in May 2017 in France, the release appears on her own L & H Production label and is eighty minutes in total. At fourteen tracks, it’s a tad long—twelve might have been a better number—but no one will ever come away from an Eckemoff release feeling shortchanged.