Through single-minded conviction and perseverance as an independent label owner, Eckemoff has managed to release more than an album per year since 2010 (she had released more than a dozen classical albums prior to that date), allowing her to build up a wholly unique catalog while developing her singular voice as player-composer-arranger.
Yelena pushes the envelope a bit further with her stellar crew on In the Shadow of a Cloud, her most upbeat and accomplished recording to date. Once again, Yelena wears many hats on this project by not only composing and arranging all the music, recruiting the band and producing the music for her own independent label, but also providing the evocative painting that graces the cover and the series of poems that accompany each track in the 28-page booklet.
Beyond the luxurious packaging, the highly affecting music is imbued with remarkable band interplay and daring improvisations from the jazz heavyweights who serve as her sideman on this ambitious 2-CD set. And they each had high praise for Yelena in working with her on this tightly-knit project.
Chris Potter: Yelena has a strong visual or memory sense that s associated with everything. And you can feel that in the way she writes. The music itself awakens a feeling, and that seems to be the center of where she is approaching music from, which I like a lot.
Drew Gress: I really dig playing Yelena s music because she is like no one else; she is doing her own thing. There are elements of through-composed in her music and she has a really interesting take on how linear shapes are combined to create harmony. It is kind of unpredictable and personal, and I really enjoyed being part of her music.
Adam Rogers: Yelena s music is quite beautiful and really unique. It is different from a normal jazz record because it is more through-composed. But I would not describe it as being a classical-jazz hybrid record, because it sounds more like she s assimilated these influences and is expressing them in an already very processed way; processed in a really good way.
Gerald Cleaver: Yelena has some very idiosyncratic music, very evocative, and it was a real pleasure to play it, especially with her and these other fine musicians. Yelena gives a lot of freedom regarding what I can play. But that gives me a feeling that I want to come up with very specific types of sound through her pieces, so it gives maybe a little more order; not strictness, but a certain kind of cohesion from sound to sound.
Like her last two concept albums 2016 s Leaving Everything Behind (about emigrating from her native Russia in 1991) and 2017 s Blooming Tall Phlox (about how certain smells from her childhood in Russia still trigger magical memories) In the Shadow of a Cloud is another personal statement from the prolific composer.
Eckemoff s In the Shadow of a Cloud stands as an evocative soundtrack for the life she left behind in Russia when she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina in 1991. All of those places and people are lost for me, she says. So I write about them; I want a longer life for them than just in my memory.
The title track, which opens CD 1, is moody and atmospheric in a quintessential ECM-ish sense, though it contains elements of polyphony between the instruments that draws on Eckemoff s classical background. Potter delivers a powerful tenor solo here that culminates in some urgent free blowing in the rubato section. The saxophonist also shines on the driving Saratovsky Bridge and more introspective Fishing Village, both underscored by Cleaver s intuitive and interactive pulse on the kit. Potter delivers a rare turn on flute on the dreamy 5/4 Waters of Tsna River, which also features brilliant, cascading solos by Rogers and Yelena herself.
The gentle Acorn Figurines, underscored by Cleaver s delicate brushwork, is a kind of jazz sonata for quartet showcasing Rogers signature legato flow on the fretboard. Gress also turns in an arresting arco solo on this unique hybrid number. Guitarist Rogers also shines on the surging On the Motorboat, which shifts into the rubato zone midway through, resulting in some of the most provocative and free-wheeling moments of the session from all the participants. CD 1 closes with the lazy meditation Hammock Stories, which sets the perfect tone for a hot summer day in the backyard.
CD 2 opens with jaunty quartet swinger Picnic in the Oaks, which has Rogers, Eckemoff, Gress and Cleaver all contributing potent solos. Potter returns on soprano sax for the engaging Waltz of the Yellow Petals, which is fueled by Cleaver s loosely swinging approach to the kit and also features another remarkably fluid solo from Rogers. Potter s soprano solo here is outstanding, full of animated expression and surprises along the way, while Yelena engages in some spirited exchanges with him and Rogers near the end of the piece.
Another quartet number, Trail Along the River, has a distinctly through-composed quality, though Eckemoff and Rogers break loose for some sparkling solos within the form. Potter returns on soprano sax on the moody Lament, then adds a new color to the proceedings with his potent bass clarinet work on the driving Vision of a Hunt. The melancholy quartet ballad The Fog showcases Potter s soaring soprano sax alongside Yelena on piano, Gress on bass and Cleaver on drums. CD 2 closes with the very pleasant Tambov Streets on a Summer Night.
While some of her past works, like Leaving Everything Behind and Blooming Tall Phlox are largely nostalgic, the story of In the Shadow of a Cloud ends with an optimistic outlook at the present and future. As Eckemoff explains, In the last piece, Tambov Streets on a Summer Night, I turn down the opportunity to re-live my past as a shadow, invisible to all, and instead choose the present: Even though my heart aches with love/For the people and places of past days/I don t belong in those times anymore./My time is in the present/Where I have many tasks unfinished, where my life s work awaits me./No matter that the road before me grows shorter, I am eager to see what the future holds in store for me.
–From Press Release by Bill Milkowski