Yelena Eckemoff – In the Shadow of a Cloud

Yelena Eckemoff – In the Shadow of a Cloud (L & H Production)

For her 11th jazz release, classically trained pianist Yelena Eckemoff presents two CDs’ worth of sensuous original compositions accompanied by a 28-page booklet. Eckemoff’s poems, childhood photos and cover art provide illuminating context for 14 instrumental renderings of her native Russia.

While most of her songs lean toward the ethereal, Eckemoff’s heavyweight band provides the impetus for urbanized jazz. On tenor saxophone, Chris Potter single-handedly muscles even finely textured tunes into the realm of aggressive forays. His approach is near-tart and rangy on the album’s title track and “Vision of a Hunt,” for the latter of which he switches to bass clarinet. On the Latin-tinged “Waters of Tsna River,” the versatile reedist conjures sunny vistas on soprano sax and even picks up his seldom-heard flute.

Eckemoff seems to encourage interpretive freedom in her talented sidemen. Guitarist Adam Rogers solos beautifully on reprieve from reading extensively written parts. Drummer Gerald Cleaver handily delivers on odd phrases and meters, masking any inherent complexities. As a pianist, Eckemoff’s feathery right hand and independent left manifest as a compendium of modern players, minus the swing element. Her melodic sense is strong, completing phrases that always sound pretty, in spite of adventuresome harmonic choices.

“Picnic in the Oaks” comes closest to a grooving swing piece, but the concept seems just beyond Eckemoff’s vernacular. In some ways, her approach is similar to Brubeck’s mathematizing, without the geometric angles. While bassist Drew Gress does his best to set up rhythmic patterns for more triplet-feel coercion, swing is a fleeting element here. Eckemoff’s many ballads are the highlights — bittersweet, poignant and searchingly nostalgic.

— James Rozzi

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