|Occupation(s)||Musician, composer, label founder, producer|
Yelena Eckemoff is a Russian pianist who left the Soviet Union in 1991 to move to the U.S. She began her career in classical music, and in 2010 she released her first jazz album.
Eckemoff was born in Moscow, Russia, in the Soviet Union. Her mother was a professional pianist and teacher. When Eckemoff was four, she was learning piano by ear and took lessons from her mother. At seven, she attended Gnessin State Musical College, a school for gifted children. Studied classical piano at Moscow State Conservatory. After graduating, she taught piano in Moscow. She gave solo concerts, took jazz classes, composed music for several instruments, and played in a jazz-rock band.
In 1991, she moved to the U.S. She recorded in several genres: classical, vocal, folk, Christian, and new-age. She released her first jazz album, Cold Sun, in 2009, accompanied by drummer Peter Erskine and Danish bassist Mads Vinding. The album drew comparisons to the stark music of ECM Records. She has now firmly landed in art/jazz territory.
Although jazz is associated with improvisation, Eckemoff often writes her tunes out. Her music has been described as classical chamber music in the context of improvisational jazz. She developed a highly acclaimed jazz style that incorporates her classical technique and influences very effectively. With each new record Eckemoff's distinctive, recognizable approach to melody becomes even more prominent. Yelena Eckemoff uses life and nature's bouquets as her muse to create the body of work that blends post-modern abstraction, classical thought, and jazz language into a seamless whole. True to her classical-jazz impressionism, Eckemoff sees humanity in nature.
For Glass Song (L&H, 2013), she reenlisted Erskine and brought bassist Arild Andersen into the fold for the first time. Surprisingly, neither veteran had ever recorded together, but you would never know it. Eckemoff, Andersen and Erskine create music that's focused, yet free floating, and open, yet never nebulous. Pure melody is of less importance than the greater narrative in each number, but the music still sings out with melodic grace. While Manfred Eicher and his storied label have nothing to do with this record, Glass Song has that "ECM sound," if ever it existed. Mystery, blooming musical thoughts and vaguely haunting notions are at the heart of this captivating album.
Yelena Eckemoff 's Lions (L&H 2015), with bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Billy Hart is a long but comprehensive look at animals in the wild with human touches, a classical-jazz soundtrack that goes beyond the superficial, intermission grabs for attention and seeks out the feelings beneath the eerily accurate movements.
Everblue (L&H, 2015) has Arild Andersen, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and drummer Jon Christensen. This Norwegian all-star contingent fits beautifully into Eckemoff’s aesthetic: Andersen with his looming pronouncements like final summations; Christensen with his suggestive rhythmic ambiguity; Brunborg with his clear, clean sound and respect for space. Glass Song, Lions and Everblue contain some of the most powerful, poetic work of Andersen's long career.
Her album Leaving Everything Behind (L&H, 2016) is united around themes of departure and loss. She wrote a poem for each piece and made the cover art. She is accompanied by violinist Mark Feldman, whose background is in classical and country music. Several of compositions date from the 1980s; a time when she was just beginning her exploration into jazz. These pieces seem highly refined, replete with airy, vague harmonies that refer equally to Bill Evans and Claude Debussy.
Blooming Tall Phlox (L&H, 2017) is intended to evoke different scents that Yelena Eckemoff recalls from her childhood in Russia. These powerful smells trigger a myriad of magical memories, each of which somehow, is transformed into a moveable feast of sounds – melodies set free by Yelena Eckemoff on a gloriously tuned piano and harmonised by Verneri Pohjola, a Finnish horn player, together with Panu Savolainen on vibraphone, Antti Lötjönen on bass and the percussionist colourist Olavi Louhivuori.
On her Aug. 4, 2017 release, In The Shadow Of A Cloud on L&H Production label she gathered together a brand new batch of sidemen to flesh out fond memories made back in Russia, where she is originally from: Chris Potter (tenor/soprano sax, flute, bass clarinet), Adam Rogers (electric guitar), Drew Gress (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The 14-track, original double-album continues where Eckemoff last left off in a series of instrumentals that tries to capture the feeling of her childhood and her loving Russian family through classical-jazz music. As with her previous releases, Eckemoff augments her original compositions with her poetry (28-page track list) and her art (the bucolic album cover), plus black and white family photos. In The Shadow Of A Cloud features Eckemoff’s classically enhanced lyricism and nimble, oftentimes surprising jazz gravitas woven in layered, high-brow, high-standards interplay.
Desert (L&H, 2018) is a musical exploration of the magic of vast and seemingly barren lands, of mirages and drifting, whispering sands, of muted pastels of vast, wide-open spaces. She has chosen to employ for the project bassist Arild Anderson and drummer Peter Erskine. New to her ensemble is multiple reedman Paul McCandless, a founding member of the group Oregon. A Middle-Eastern mood pervades on a set of Eckemoff originals, sounds tinted by the influence of the Arabian peninsula: “Bedouins,” “Mirages,” “Desert Cry” and “Colors Of Nothingness.” The arrangements are succinct and crisply executed. Drummer Erskine gives a masterclass in elevating the music throughout, in the way that Paul Motian always did, with a distinctively different approach. Eckemoff’s compositions have a characteristic refinement, their accessible complexities woven through by McCandless’ sinewy melodic lines from his oboe, English horn, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet. And a bonus—Eckemoff’s prose and poetry included in the twenty-plus page cover booklet that adds a vocabulary to her musical ideas. Especially compelling is her short story “Bedouins.” She is proving herself as fine a writer as she is a musician on this excellent work of art.
Discography (as a leader)
- 21 Biblical Psalms (1993)
- Table Music (1996)
- Piano Series 1 (1997)
- Russian Songs and Romances (1999)
- The Birth of Emmanuel (2000)
- Kaleidoscope of Life (2001)
- When Christmas is Near (2001)
- Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (2002)
- Piano Chronicles 1 (2003)
- Piano Chronicles 2 (2003)
- Travel (2005)
- Piano Series 2 (2006)
- The Call (2006)
- Advocate of Love (2009)
- Cold Sun (L&H, 2010) with Mads Vinding & Peter Erskine
- Grass Catching the Wind (L&H, 2010) with Mads Vinding & Morten Lund
- Flying Steps (L&H, 2010) with Darek Oleszkiewicz & Peter Erskine
- Forget-Me-Not (L&H, 2011) with Mats Eilertsen & Marilyn Mazur
- Glass Song (L&H, 2013) with Arild Andersen & Peter Erskine
- A Touch of Radiance (L&H, 2014) with Mark Turner, Joe Locke, George Mraz & Billy Hart
- Lions (L&H, 2015) with Arild Andersen & Billy Hart
- Everblue (L&H, 2015) with Tore Brunborg, Arild Andersen & Jon Christensen
- Leaving Everything Behind (L&H, 2016) with Mark Feldman, Ben Street & Billy Hart
- Blooming Tall Phlox (L&H, 2017) with Verneri Pohjola, Panu Savolainen, Antti Lotjonen & Olavi Louhivuori
- In the Shadow of a Cloud (L&H, 2017) with Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Drew Gress & Gerald Cleaver
- Desert (L&H, 2018) with Paul McCandless, Arild Andersen & Peter Erskine
- Better Than Gold And Silver (L&H, 2018) with Ralph Alessi, Ben Monder, Christian Howes, Drew Gress, Joey Baron & Tomas Cruz & Kim Mayo
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- McClenaghan, Dan (13 May 2018). "Album Review: Desert". All About Jazz.