Tuesday, January 17, 2017

RUSSIA/FINLAND: Yelena Eckemoff , Verneri Pohjola , Olavi Louhivuori,-Blooming Tall Phlox(L & H Production 2017)

Blooming Tall Phlox 

Blooming Tall Phlox is Eckemoff's tenth album since shifting gears from the classical music of her early career and a mid-career break to raise her children into a more firmly and decidedly jazz focus with the 2010 release of Cold Sun. Augmented by her compelling artwork and poetry, Eckemoff now adds the impact of human senses to her music...in the case of Blooming Tall Phlox, that of smell. Increasingly imbued by her distinctive, recognizable approach to melody, her song titles not only palpably evoke these alluring odors, but provide both vivid and immediate imagery and inspiration for this two-CD, 98-minute set of fifteen new compositions, divided into two parts: Summer Smells and Winter Smells.
Eckemoff's range is broad, as a pianist, composer and arranger. Her music can seamlessly move between ethereal abstractions and arpeggio-driven thematic constructs; play liberally with time or swing with surprising fervor; juxtapose gentle balladry, defined by beautifully unfolding series of motifs, with greater angularity and extemporaneous freedom; positively sing with mellifluous lyricism or challenge preconception with knotty idiosyncrasies while, bolstered by an organic meshing of frenetic grooves and in-the-moment interaction, providing contexts for expressive improvisational élan from Eckemoff and her exceptional quintet, the pianist's firm yet plaint touch successfully unveiling, indeed, the character of her Bechstein. With the exception of a small handful of through-composed material, most of Blooming Tall Phlox's fifteen compositions demonstrate a remarkable confluence of form and freedom, couched within the context of some of Eckemoff's most challenging yet appealing charts to date. And yet, despite the openness, the immediacy and unpredictability that pervades much of Blooming Tall Phlox, there's no shortage of affecting lyricism, whether it's the thematically rich "Wildflower Meadows" or temporally fluid tone poem "Sleeping in the Tent," where Eckemoff's scripted lines provide expansive improvisational opportunities.
Blooming Tall Phlox also demonstrates, between Eckemoff's impeccable playing and interaction with her superb bandmates, that her early classical training/experience may still be a part of her DNA, but what she is doing now is irrefutably jazz. Playfully imbued with vitality, energy, creativity and, perhaps most importantly, an unrelenting sound of surprise that reveals more with each and every listen, Blooming Tall Phlox proves that it is possible to reinvent oneself. Over six years and ten recordings, Eckemoff has evolved into a deeply creative jazz artist: not just a pianist capable of engaging with some of the finest jazz musicians on the planet, but a composer/arranger who can surprise them with unexpected and enigmatic music that drives them to even further levels of excellence. It's a potent combination that, with Blooming Tall Phlox, not only raises her own already high bar, but those of Pohjola, Savolainen, Lötjönen and Louhivuori as well.
Blooming Tall Phlox is both a consistent fit within Eckemoff's overall discography and a move into areas previously unexplored for a pianist who, rather than constantly thinking about where she is now, is always (and, at this moment, already) thinking ahead. She already has her next album in the can and, if the exceptional Blooming Tall Phlox is any indication, it will no doubt continue the upward trajectory that this daring pianist/composer has been on since she first appeared in the jazz world just six short years ago, garnering increased attention from publications ranging from Downbeat and Jazztimes to Jazzwise and Jazzthing. --from Press Release by John Kelman