Russian pianist Yelena Eckemoff’s use of space, texture and harmony on her latest CD, Flying Steps, would befit any classical prodigy with a master’s from the Moscow State Conservatory. But other elements, including her interaction with bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and drummer Peter Erskine, lead listeners to deeper parts of Eckemoff’s story.
Each composition’s title seems to hold special significance for the pianist. The disc’s opening “Promise” breaks from a relaxed swing into a tango accented by Erskine’s brush strokes on the snare. “A Smile” opens with the drummer’s lonely taps on a cymbal, before expanding through Oleszkiewicz’s perfectly placed punctuations and Eckemoff’s lyrical lines. It’s tempting to label this chamber jazz, but the music detours every time it approaches such a classical-meets-swing hybrid.
“Good Morning,” dedicated to Eckemoff’s son Anthony, utilizes high-pitched piano accents that suggest gospel, or even electronica. On “For Harry,” her dedication to her husband, the rhythm section seems to eavesdrop for the first three minutes. But then Erskine and Oleszkiewicz kick into an assertive midsection that prefaces a stellar solo by the versatile veteran drummer. The pianist’s sacred-music inspirations and MIDI-enhanced virtual-orchestra flourishes also figure into the mix. She and her husband converted to Christianity and fled the former Soviet Union 20 years ago.
Eckemoff dedicates the waltzing title track to Erskine and the poignant ode “Tomorrow” to Oleszkiewicz, both of which close the disc in true team fashion. Flying Steps is a democratic, ECM-inspired statement by a true jazz original.
— Bill Meredith