“Nocturnal Animals” perfectly showcases the artful soundscape of an accomplished American jazz pianist, classically trained in the Russian school. The album is also significant as it is the last recording of the great Jon Christensen (RIP), augmented by a second drummer Thomas Strønen. Arild Andersen’s virtuosic bass tones add the authority throughout.
The leader knows how to move perfectly, even from the compositional point of view, in the sea of music. She manages the heritage of improvisation, embraces the swing language, keeps alongside the stylistic features of the classical, even contemporary music styles.
Be sure to approach this record at night or at least at dusk to better soak up its atmosphere. It is under the lunar rays that it is revealed, provided you show patience – it remains a double chamber jazz album, with pieces of four to eight minutes and reduced instrumentation. This is also a shortcoming of the record which still contains songs that “hit the encrust.” Take away a few, and the evocation of this fauna that we usually only see in the light of our headlights will be filled with strong passion. To make the trip perfect, select the stages: “Fox” and “Wolf” to put yourself in the shoes of these predatory mammals on the hunt. “Hedgehog” conversely is full of vulnerability, while “Bats” and “Owl” have beautiful flights of piano, logical. “Rattlesnake” is mean, vicious in the way it turns with the percussion, while “Cicada” and “Sea Turtle” are calm and relaxed… When the first light of day breaks on the horizon, everyone returns to their lair, waiting for darkness to return. We won’t see them again, but over the course of one night they gave us a fascinating ballet of beauty.
Yelena’s compositions are complex, profound, and contain flavors that include her poignancy and classical music proficiency. ..Nocturnal animals is a serious good album; I could even swear that if I would close my eyes, this is a preparation for my religion. I wonder what the manfred view is waiting for to transfer Yelena to the glorious label.
Yelena Eckemoff has found her own expressive position in world jazz music that is both unique and matching for her. She puts all her efforts into having a project exist not only in music dimension but outside of it also. The result of her efforts is a synthesized visionary art form that unites poetry, music, and even the design of her own cover art – her own oil paintings. She tries hard to create such art form, and this can be clearly seen in her other albums. We could musically analyze each individual song from this extensive double album and describe how it relates to the accompanying poetry, but such description would only scratch the surface of this remarkable work of art. It would be much better for each listener to get his or her own idea, so I strongly recommend that you listen to both CDs and immerse yourself in the world of Yelena Eckemoff’s music while reading her poetry at the same time, because only this way will you get a complete picture of this work of art!
Nocturnal Animals is the pioneering work of Yelena Eckemoff’s piano, and it is the piano sound that guides the rest of the instruments at all times, and it can be described as a creative sound gallery, of which the piano is the main axis of its formation. ..This non-verbal music album is a precise sign of the peak of the abilities of this powerful artist, who can hear the high quality of a brilliant jazz work.
Musically it is quite dry, a bit stagnant, albeit beautifully done. Arild Andersen’s powerful bass lines, Jon Christensen’s light and delicate drum playing, Eckemoff’s confidently stepping left hand and more searching and poetically minded right hand, certainly it is elegant.
Two CDs with around three-quarters of an hour of jazz are therefore by no means too much; the mere chance of experiencing the calm Jon Christensen at the end of his long career together with the sovereign Arild Andersen and for the first time with the agile Thomas Strønen, charmingly combined by Yelena Eckemoff’s catchy melodies, makes »NOCTURNAL ANIMALS« an all-round recommendable , unique »Nordic Jazz« album full of highlights.
Now – the animals, more precisely, the nocturnal ones. But anyone who thinks that the whole thing has led to a kind of gothic romance is thankfully mistaken. Rather, it is the ideas about what a firefly or an owl is doing at night that have spurred Eckemoff on to extensive, yet exciting excursions on the excellently arranged Steinway grand piano.
Eckemoff is very much her own musician. Her lyrical touch and very particular approach to what one might call the “weight” of phrasing, dynamics and rhythm are set in service of compositions which precipitate an unerringly characterful blend of poetically wrought beauty and a distilled yet expansive improvisational verve. I first heard this classically trained, Russian-born but American-domiciled polymath (a captivating painter and touching poet as well as top-order pianist) on her 2013 Glass Song with Andersen and Peter Erskine (d). Impressed, I have since come to relish a good many of Eckemoff’s releases on her L & H label.
Eckemoff is a classical lyrical melodicist who wants to create moods through both his songs and his piano playing. She has definitely succeeded, if even not all the songs are equally memorable. Nor could she ask for better travel companions than Andersen, Christensen and Pohlitz Strønen. Andersen with his big, warm and singing bass, Christensen as the colorist as he became increasingly towards the end of his career and Pohlitz Strønen as the straightest of the two drummers, yet with room to show us what a great personality he is, become just as listening and creative as we know they are. ..In addition to being a fine pianist, Eckemoff is a multi-artist. She has written a poem for each of the songs. They are included in the cover booklet which visual artist Eckemoff has created the cover image for as well.
How Eckemoff uses sound and arrangements to represent each nocturnal animal is very intriguing. The combination of piano, bass, and both drums and percussion is also unique.
Yelena is the epitome of creative humility: her technique, at the very highest imaginable level, and yet, even with that, her openness to create space for her compatriots. ..Imagine then what it must be like to experience the convergence of four, genuine masters — each of his or her respective instrument — as they roll out deep listening and engagement with one another, unquestioned virtuosity at their fingertips, all in fidelity to Yelena’s unending flow of creative and (even for her) unusually spacious composition.
This, her 15th (!) album in ten years, she dedicates to the nocturnal creature, the bat, the lynx, the owl. Each of them owns a composition and a poem, some of it counteracts all expectations, but this is not program music. It is impressions and soundscapes in pastel tones and delicate values.
Russian jazz pianist Yelena Eckemoff is one of the most creative and best representatives of her genre. Her piano playing and playing feeling is unique and always a pleasure. Her latest double l – C D “Nocturnal Animals” is proof of this. …This piano jazz CD is a pleasure to listen to.
The term “expect the unexpected” may have become somewhat trite from overuse, but in the case of any new music from Yelena Eckemoff it certainly is true. Moreover, her work is always deep and extremely well-crafted artistically and technically. Lots of artists strive for this and many succeed, but somehow none seem to do so […]
Yelena’s music is very much composition led. One of her critical characteristics is that her music is so very much her own, her music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. Improvisation does occur, occasionally moving into quite abstract territory, particularly in dialogues with percussion. But it is in fact difficult to tell where the improvisation starts and the composition stops, so interesting is the latter and so well honed to the piece in question is the former. Her music is a remarkable combination of warm elegance and lively exploration. There is a way in which every one of her albums is always reliably the same and always completely different, as indeed is every track. At the bottom of it all one can say that everything she does is beautiful.
Russian pianist, got a good education in classical music before moving to US in 1991, where her interests eventually turned to jazz (especially from 2009 forward). Recorded this one in Oslo with all-stars Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen on drums.
Having based herself in the US since 1991, she seems to have developed an affinity for a geographical halfway-house in the shape of Scandinavian coworkers, not only the three musicians appearing with her but also the late engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug. The suggestion that this might lead to an ECM sound is only partly borne out by her 14 original compositions, since she clearly prefers a more upfront and heavier piano sound which suits her occasionally stodgy timing.
One of my favorite albums of 2020 so far is Yelena Eckemoff’s Nocturnal Animals (16/44.1 FLAC, L&H Production/Tidal).
If you desire to focus on the individual creatures and experience how they realized in music you can do exactly that. Or you can simply be entertained and relaxed just enjoying the lyrical mood of this four-headed trio, to its perfect interplay between the classical piano, the smooth-styled bass and the rhythmic work of the two drummers. Open your hearts to enjoy delicate and noble elements of this music! As the matter of fact, this music has also a typical “ECM sound” and I am curious whether or when Manfred Eicher would desire to produce a record with Yelena Eckemoff.
…she creates a very original atmosphere, in some tracks – angular and conspicuous, as in “Hedgehog”, in some others tracks – more liquid, in every case enriching the musical panorama for her listeners. This is very nice record, and as soon as you connect to Yelena’s music, these two CDs quickly flow from first track to the last.
I enjoyed listening to Eckemoff’s musical drawing. I liked its dramatic expression. While listening, it takes you for a stroll through the forest of fairy tales, which is dark, mysterious but never scary. Also, in this live-playing album, it is a pleasure to hear the musicians really listen to each other as well as their technical mastery.
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.
The sounds include an swinging bass and drums for the hip line of “Lynx” with some abstract floating on “Firefly.” “Wolf” is a crystalline delight with piano and bass sparkling and pianistic reflections glisten on “Walkingstick.” There is a floating feel to “Sea” turtle and you can feel the hooting on “Owl” and rich harmonies on “Hedgehog.” A Saint Francis of sounds.
[Eckemoff] managed to create her own sound in modern world jazz, successfully perform, record with prominent Western musicians. ..Nocturnal Animals’ album is excellent, as, indeed, most of her other works!
After a half dozen listens the first disc has all gelled together in my head and how beautiful it is, I cannot count the ways. As per an earlier observation, it’s almost impossible, particularly with Yelena’s piano to tell what is composed and what is improvised which says a huge amount about the quality of both the composition and the improvisation.
In 14 ‘Fantasies’ she tries to capture the essence of these nocturnal animals with her classically trained piano playing. She leaves the maximum medium tempo neither for the bat nor for the rattlesnake. Extra striking is the band.
Once again, jazz pianist and virtuoso Yelena Eckemoff has created a feast for our ears, with this feast taking place at night and in the wild. ..Don’t be surprised, when you get it, to find yourself in Yelena’s forest for many an escape. A higher recommendation I could not make, and Nocturnal Animals leaves me breathless to hear what realm she conquers next.
Eckemoff’s albums, as a leader, continue to find creative avenues of expression and orchestrations. Eckemoff’s compositions have always put her in a special place in the jazz world, and now, Nocturnal Animals is starting to mark her as a serious pianist too. A unique project and worth a listen.
The release machinery of Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff rolls and rolls – you always wonder when she finds time to record her two or three albums a year…Eckemoff deals with the mysterious and atmospheric structures of the “Scorpion, makes the “Fox” swing and creates gripping suspense with the “Bat.” Enjoyed in small portions, pieces like the majestic “Sea Turtle” develop a magical pull, but when heard as a whole, “Nocturnal Animals” is a bit too much of a good thing.
Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff is predictably unpredictable. …This album and the previous duet recording both place Eckemoff the pianist on the same plane as Eckemoff the composer, proof that the two sides of her musical life are closer together than they appear. Nocturnal Animals presents a unique perspective on both.
Each new Yelena Eckemoff release immediately becomes my favourite, so Nocturnal Animals is my favourite for now. Consider the sterling pianism, double bass virtuosity and quirky dual drum kit setup (when is a piano trio not a trio?). Consider the allure of Eckemoff’s compositions, replete with accessible themes yet rich in intricate incidental detail. Consider the artisanal charm of L & H Production’s CD packaging, which reproduces not only all fourteen creature poems but also an aptly moonlit landscape painting (likewise the pianist’s own work). And consider the sound of this recording, engineered by one of the late greats to capture the music with clinical clarity and ambient warmth. What’s not to love?! Across two discs, Nocturnal Animals assembles an embarrassment of riches. When your speakers spill forth this binaural bounty, you may well find a new favourite of your own.
Jon Christensen and Thomas Stronen brilliantly decorate each song with various ornaments, evoking associations with, for example, cicadas or a rattlesnake crawling on the grass…In turn, the double bass by Arild Andersen perfectly reflects the character of the fox walking stealthily at night in the forest undergrowth or the monumental character of the predatory bear…Everything is dominated by wonderful piano parts, full of singing melody and peculiar magic specific to Eckemoff.
Pianist Yelena Eckemoff has band it a point to think and compose outside the box. In fact, I am sure there is no box, only Echemoff’s free expression as fusion between the musical and temporal worlds to achieve a spiritual one.
Pianist Eckemoff returns with yet another double disc of meditative & engaging tunes, this time based around animal themes. It is interesting to see where her flights of fancy take her, as if each tune is a soundtrack for that animal.
…A concept album that provides deep insights into the thinking and soul of Yelena Eckemoff. ..She can touch magically on her instrument, she can act powerfully, or float impressionistically over the keyboard; she knows how to decorate melodic miniatures or formulate brooding thoughts pianistically, or use individual notes to set exclamation points. ..The pianist has the lighthouse among the European bassists, Arild Andersen at her side. …Christensen and Stronen play the edges of the music excellently. They make use of the open spaces that the music offers them, or they create them themselves by applying a nuanced sensitivity instead of power struggle.
Eckemoff’s tunes are complex and multi-dimensional; they reflect her substantial classical training, as well as her love for folk and sacred music, expressed in painstakingly annotated compositions, syncopation, and improvisation. ..14 quartet pieces range across the spectrum without forsaking an implied intimacy that always engages her listeners immediately. ..Nocturnal Animals is supplemented by Eckemoff’s evocative free verse; her poetry allows these pieces to enter the world directly, in a variety of sonic dialects. Nocturnal Animals reveals Eckemoff in a heightened state of jazz discovery; it edifies, questions, and ultimately illumines the inherent darkness, mystery, and spirituality of the natural world.
This is a compelling album, complex & densely textured with ECM aesthetics.
Yelena Eckemoff fügt mit Nocturnal Animals ein weiteres Element in ihre Reihe von durchdachten Konzeptalben ein. Getreu seinem Titel enthält das Doppelalbum 14 musikalische Eindrücke von den Geschöpfen, die die Nacht beherrschen. Die Stücke werden von einem Quartett zum Leben erweckt, das Eckemoff neben dem Bassisten Arild Andersen und den Schlagzeugern Jon Christensen und Thomas Strønen platziert.
Each new title of pianist born in Moscow and established in North Carolina is a deeply personalized and multivalent act.
Another disc in Yelena Eckemoff’s discography was created, fascinating with the paths that the artist’s imagination follows.
Eckemoff’s animals range from those we humans seldom see…cicadas, scorpions, fireflies, walkingsticks…to those familiar from daily life and folklore…wolves, bats, owls, grizzly bears, snakes.
Russian Russia-born Yelena Eckemoff leads the unique quartet to describe the Norwegian scene and the harsh nature of Scandinavia… There are many lyrical pieces, even though there are many solid styles, and each piece is a work full of inspiration.
Russian-born pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff is known for blending Russian romanticism with the American jazz tradition. Nocturnal Animals is the latest in a long line of spellbinding concept albums that have rightly been defined as sonic portrait galleries.
Eckemoff is a truly remarkable artist, one possessing a seemingly bottomless well of energy and ideas (Nocturnal Animals is apparently her fifteenth release in ten years). In featuring her playing, compositions, artwork, and poetry, this latest collection testifies to the incredible creative resources she consistently draws upon and makes the release, eighty-seven explorative minutes in total, resonate all the more memorably for being so personalized. …Her classical background lends her playing a dignified and subtly aristocratic (though not stuffy) quality, while her love for jazz infuses it with an insistent rhythmic flow. She’s no maximalist intent on overwhelming the listener with a barrage of notes, but neither is she a minimalist. Her playing appears as an imaginative stream of invention that gives her partners ample material to respond to. She and Andersen act as a tag-team of sorts, the bassist shadowing her and assuming a prominent role as both melodist and soloist. Nocturnal Animals is also elevated by the Christensen-Strønen combination. Rather than adding excessive density, the two generate a rich array of drums, cymbals, and percussion sounds. Without putting too fine a point on it, Strønen provides a deferential, clutter-free foundation which Christensen adds to with tom-tom accents and cymbal flourishes. The cumulative result is a multi-layered music where multiple things are happening at once, and the listener is never less than engaged.
Nocturnal Animals is an enchanting project, well worth your time and attention.
Eckemoff pens complex tunes which reflect her classical training and, at the same time, seem to have a feeling of a folk music direction. The sound her bandmates create alongside Eckemoff is subtle, shimmering, translucently gorgeous, featuring Eckemoff displaying her most delicate touch. Bassist Andersen is typically muscular—the backbone of the band—while drummers Christensen and Stronen weave and counter-weave backdrops of diaphanous fabric—a tapestry of spider webs. Through her boundless ambition, determination and expansive talent, Eckemoff has turned herself into a major jazz artist with a consistently outstanding discography all on her own L & H Production label.
The number of beats with which the Russian pianist knocks out her albums is always astonishing. Eckemoff loves themed albums and has therefore supplemented “Nocturnal Animals” with poems about such animals that can be read in the CD booklet… The majestic “Toad” sets a monument to the toad in the jazz context for the first time… With her top-class band, Eckemoff achieves atmospheric, mostly well-paced chamber pieces that bear witness to their overflowing ingenuity.
Nocturnal Animals plays small, in quiet, stealthy patter. The choice to go with double-bassist Andersen, who’s appeared on several of her past works, and two drummers, Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen, blends well with the heartbeat of these animals that humans sense more often than see, and often, with fear and trepidation, if not wonder. ..As Eckemoff lights this gradual ascent from darkness, she touches the eternal and the earthly with renewed purpose.
Nobody can ever accuse Eckemoff of not being ambitious. She has taken us a lot of different places over the course of her career so far and this time she takes us impressionistically into the world of nocturnal animals spreading the work over two discs… She doesn’t have to try hard to take her piano to new places but she certainly extends her reach here.
Her first jazz album, “Cold Sun”, with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine, was recorded in 2009, and that Manfred Eicher of ECM did not pick her up there and then, may well be considered a mistake by the German. She has always been concerned with the ingenious and a bit strange in nature, which is perhaps why her relationship with the Nordic countries is so strong.