Adventures of the Wildflower Yelena Eckemoff
- 1In the Ground06:16
- 3Weeding the Garden09:06
- 4Dos Chasing a Mouse04:25
- 6Hoome by the Fence06:58
- 10Winter Slamber07:43
- 11Waking up in the Spring06:10
- 12Buds and Flowers07:52
- 15Children Playing with Seed Pods04:48
- 17Another Winter05:48
- 18Baby Columbines07:13
Info for Adventures of the Wildflower
Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff unfurls her most elaborate and ambitious musical work yet with Adventures of the Wildflower, which her own L&H Production label will release on March 19, 2021. As its title suggests, the double album is the story of a life, from birth to death (and rebirth), of an anthropomorphic columbine flower. Its story is told through the inspired work of Eckemoff and a Finnish ensemble that includes saxophonist Jukka Perko, multi-instrumentalist Jarmo Saari, vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, bassist Antti Lötjönen, and drummer- percussionist Olavi Louhivuori. Long a conceptualist, Eckemoff has previously tended to craft albums of thematically linked but discrete pieces. Adventures of the Wildflower, however, functions as a single narrative. The flower—aptly named Columbine—undertakes a vivid journey, growing from baby to mature plant as she observes from her garden spot the whirl of nature and of life, plant and animal, around her.
Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow. In her twenties, she found herself drawn to jazz—at a time when the music, or at least recordings of it, were a rare commodity in the then-Soviet Union. Yet an appearance by Dave Brubeck behind the Iron Curtain reinforced her newfound love of the music and shaped her creative path thenceforth.
That path turned out to run through the United States, where Eckemoff immigrated in 1991 and settled in North Carolina. Now ensconced in the country that gave birth to jazz, she went in search of players who could do justice to her intricate ideas.
The search was a long and sometimes frustrating one, but it paid off when she was able to work with the likes of bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine on her 2010 album Cold Sun. Later collaborators have included projects with Mark Turner, Joe Locke, Ralph Alessi, Billy Hart, Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, Joey Baron, Arild Andersen, and Jon Christensen, the great Norwegian drummer whose final recording was on Eckemoff’s 2020 release Nocturnal Animals.
Having previously worked with Savolainen, Lötjönen and Louhivuori on her 2017 album, Blooming Tall Phlox (inspired by nature’s smells), she was eager to return to Helsinki to record with them again. That she did in summer of 2019 (before the onset of the pandemic), with the addition of two highly regarded Finns: guitarist Saari and saxophonist Jukka Perko, who took a relay baton from trumpeter Verneri Pohjola.
Long a conceptualist, Eckemoff has previously tended to craft albums of thematically linked but discrete pieces. Adventures of the Wildflower, however, functions as a single narrative. The flower—aptly named Columbine—undertakes a vivid journey, growing from baby to mature plant as she observes from her garden spot the whirl of nature and of life, plant and animal, around her. She even learns to communicate with her garden mates, a real phenomenon that inspired Eckemoff to create the album when she read about it in a magazine.
“I was intrigued to learn that plants communicate with each other through the air, by releasing odorous chemicals, and through the soil, by secreting soluble chemicals,” she says. “Such communal life sparked my imagination. I started to envision how a single plant would feel being part of such an interconnected community and how it would react to its neighbors who lived next to it. Soon I had a kernel of an idea about a wildflower.”
Eckemoff supplements her original music with an 18-part narrative poem (one part for each composition) that tells Columbine’s story. While nuanced, the narrative is built on an earnest simplicity, like a children’s story. The music, on the other hand, is much more complex. The multiple levels of melody in “Home by the Fence” or “Children Playing with Seed Pods” are sumptuous feasts for both the ear and the intellect, while pieces like “Chickens,” “Butterflies,” and “Another Winter” are filled with experimental, even psychedelic, textures.
Credit for these soundscapes must go as well to the musicians who work with Eckemoff. The sounds Saari conjures from his guitars, theremin, and glass harp lend the music a unique palette, augmented by the bold, unconventional playing of Perko, Savolainen, Lötjönen, and Louhivuori. “They were fearless in approaching my extensive lead sheets,” the pianist affirms. In Adventures of the Wildflower that fearlessness has, like Columbine, blossomed into a splendid and very alive specimen of its own.
With Adventures of the Wildflower, Eckemoff wanted to make an offering of positivity to her adopted country. “I was moved to make this record as my answer to our turbulent times,” she says. “I believe that nothing is more important than for all earthly beings to find a way to live together peacefully, next to each other in the same community. Characters of my story may have disagreements with each other, but in the end, they always find a way to coexist together on the same plot of land.”
Yelena Eckemoff, piano
Jarmo Saari, guitars, theremin, glass harp
Jukka Perko, saxophones
Panu Savolainen, vibraphone
Antti Lotjonen, double bass
Olavi Louhivuori, drums, percussion
was born in Moscow, Russia, in the Soviet Union. Her parents noticed that she had musical talent when she started to play piano by ear at the age of four. Yelena’s mother, Olga, a professional pianist, became her first piano teacher. At the age of seven Yelena was accepted into an elite Gnessins School for musically gifted children where, in addition to common school subjects, she received extensive training in piano, music theory, music literature, solfeggio, harmony, analysis of musical forms, conducting, composing, and other musical subjects. She was fortunate to study piano with Anna Pavlovna Kantor, who also trained one of today’s most celebrated pianists, Evgeny Kissin. Later Yelena studied piano with Galina Nikolaevna Egiazarova at the Moscow State Conservatory. Upon graduation with Master’s Degree in piano performance and pedagogy, she worked as a piano teacher in one of Moscow music schools, gave solo concerts, attended courses at the Moscow Jazz Studio, played in an experimental jazz-rock band, and composed a lot of instrumental and vocal music.
In 1991, with her husband, Yelena emigrated to the United States. While assimilating and surviving in a new country and raising children, she had to put her musical career on hold. During these years Yelena experimented with synthesizer and MIDI sequencer in her little home studio, then founded an ensemble of local musicians. She self-released albums in various genres including classical, vocal, folk, Christian, and her original music.
She recorded her first jazz album, COLD SUN, in 2009, accompanied by drummer Peter Erskine and Danish bassist Mads Vinding, which proved to be the major turning point in her jazz career. Cold Sun was names one of 15 best jazz CD releases of 2010 by Warren Allen (AAJ) and drew comparisons to the stark music of ECM Records.
From that point on, Eckemoff churned out compelling and focused jazz albums at an astounding pace; she recorded and released four more piano trio records in less than four years engaging such notable jazz musicians as Mads Vinding, Morten Lund, Mats Eilertsen, Marilyn Mazur, Darek Olezskiewicz, Peter Erskine, and Arild Andersen. FORGET-ME-NOT (L & H, 2012) was in the best 10 on CMJ charts for over 10 weeks. “Themes of nature, sounds of isolation, stark settings, and blurred lines between compositional and improvisational elements are visible on all of Eckemoff’s trio dates, but no two records sound exactly the same.” (John Kelman)
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.” (Dan Bilawsky)
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.” (Thomas Conrad)
“LEAVING EVERYTHING BEHIND (L&H, 2016) is united around themes of departure and loss. Yelena 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.” (Mark Sullivan)
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 harmonized by Verneri Pohjola, a Finnish horn player, together with Panu Savolainen on vibraphone, Antti Lötjönen on bass and the percussionist colorist Olavi Louhivuori.
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.
A band leader, producer and co-founder of L & H Production record label, Yelena also gives piano lessons. She had served as a church musician and choir director for over 22 years, until she got too busy with her recording and performing schedule. Yelena believes in hard work, God’s guidance, humanism, and eternal love.