Yelena Eckemoff: Adventures of the Wildflower
Each Yelena Eckemoff release is both deeply informed by her artistic persona and the musical partners she convenes for it. Adventures of the Wildflower, an ambitious two-CD affair, is no exception: she wrote, arranged, and plays piano on eighteen original compositions, created paintings for the package, fashioned the album concept, and wrote the texts for its narrative. Much of the recording’s personality, however, derives from the Finnish musicians recruited for it: saxophonist Jukka Perko, electric guitarist Jarmo Saari, vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, acoustic bassist Antti Lotjonen, and drummer Olavi Louhivuori. Adventures of the Wildflower is an Eckemoff production through and through, yet it’s also a unique statement because of the instrumentalists involved.
This time around, the narrative is the kind one could easily imagine used for a children’s storybook. As these things often do, the seed for the project emerged with some degree of serendipity when Eckemoff read in a magazine about the way plants communicate with each other (listeners of a certain age will be forgiven for thinking immediately of Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants from 1979). Chemical connections are made via air and soil, resulting in an interconnected community much like musicians interacting in an ensemble. For her story, the classically trained pianist tried to imagine the experience of a single plant, in this case a columbine flower named, yes, Columbine, within that community and its interactions with its neighbours. The titular adventures thus have to do with life, from birth to death, of said plant and observations of the teeming world around it. A quick scan of the track titles hints at the narrative content with references to weeding, drought, seasonal change, children, and creatures—dogs, mice, butterflies, hummingbirds, chickens, et al.
The music, on the other hand, is anything but childlike—even if a child’s sense of wonder can be gleaned from the performances. While Eckemoff brings a clearly defined vision to Adventures of the Wildflower, she’s also receptive to the tone colours and textures her accompanists make available. As is her custom, she provided them with extensive lead sheets for the August 2019 Helsinki sessions, but they imprinted themselves upon the material with their personalities. The musical plantlife, pardon the pun, blossoms under her direction and their engagement.
Saari also contributes theremin and glass harp to the recording, and in fact the former’s high-pitched warble is one of the first sounds that appears and thus helps establish the project’s broad palette. While Savolainen’s vibes, Perko’s saxes, Saari’s guitars, and Eckemoff’s piano are critical to the distinctive sound world cultivated in these performances, it’s more the collective tapestry that gives Adventures of the Wildflower its lush, emblematic character; Louhivuori and Lotjonen are likewise attentive and versatile players who enhance the charts with colouristic detail. Yes, Eckemoff is the leader, and her playing impresses as always (see her remarkable solo turn in “Dying”), but each participant is integral to the result, and a powerful synergy between the six is demonstrated throughout.
The release complements the others in her discography, yet it also differentiates itself from them in its greater textural emphasis. There’s an explorative openness in these performances that suggests the pianist loosened the reins more than usual to allow her partners to boldly venture past notation. Being wholly instrumental, the pieces can be enjoyed on purely musical grounds or tied to their titles for a visual correlate. One can choose to appreciate “Dog Chasing a Mouse,” for instance, for its muscular groove and soprano sax-and-vibes trade-offs or for the way the instruments embody one animal in rapid pursuit of another.
At two hours, there’s lots to dig into, from the warm, breezy swing of “Weeding the Garden” to the serenading splendour of “Winter Slumber” and joyful, rather Parisian charm of “Butterflies,” and pleasures are plentiful. Consider, for example, the way the band’s playing majestically swells as “Rain” and “Home By the Fence” move toward their respective closes. A political theme underlies the story, however innocently child-like its presentation is on the surface. In Eckemoff’s own words, “I believe that nothing is more important than for all earthly beings to find a way to live together peacefully, next to each other in the same community. Characters of my story may have disagreements with each other, but in the end, they always find a way to coexist together on the same plot of land.” It’s a lesson worth imparting to children, but it’s also one capable of resonating across all age groups.