Everblue introduces the Yelena Eckemoff Quartet, for which the Russian-born pianist is joined by a trio of ECM’s Norwegian regulars—saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Arild Andersen, and drummer Jon Christensen—in what amounts to her most sublime effort to date. All the more so for being recorded at Oslo’s hallowed Rainbow Studio, with none other than Jan Erik Kongshaug at the helm. That it is self-produced like Eckemoff’s previous albums shows the commitment with which she has paved her road.
Since dedicating herself as a jazz recording artist, Eckemoff has intrigued at every stage of development, as with each new release she draws bigger and bigger names into her circle. More than any other, this album shows just how far she has grown from her purely classical roots. That’s not to say she’s let go of them entirely. On the title track, as well as “Sea-Breeze,” she solos tentatively at best. One can hear her struggling against the rigidity of her training to branch toward improvisatory skies, and the learning process, as for any musician, will for her be lifelong. But here she is among masters of the field whose very presence audibly rubs off as synergy begins to take hold. Between Brunborg’s golden veils, Andersen’s sagacious wisdom, and Christensen’s peerless feel for coloration, her allies are like the tide: they ebb and flow with surety.
Two aquatically themed tracks are, in fact, among Eckemoff’s best, “Waves & Shells” boasting evocative dialogue between her and Brunborg and showing the pianist in her element. “Skyline” is just as painterly, Eckemoff and Brunborg again sounding beautifully off each other over the rhythm section’s tectonic support. This time the leader’s soloing is more thoughtful and confident, blending organically into Andersen’s own. Eckemoff shines when the lights are low, as in the tenderer glow of “Blue Lamp” and “Abyss,” in both of which she draws clear and present inspiration from the saxophonist.
Brunborg is an especially vital component of these interlocking puzzles, but Andersen and Christensen bring especial wonders to bear on “All Things, Seen and Unseen,” over which Eckemoff’s pianism skirts genre lines, brushing sparkle into the robust currents of her bandmates. A spry solo from Andersen toward the end speaks of younger memories. “Ghost of the Dunes” highlights Christensen, who contrasts light splashes of cymbal with deeper drums. But it’s Andersen, with his two originals, “Prism” and “Man,” who brings out the best in Eckemoff. Thus freed from the tunnel vision of her own writing, she attains freshness of sound. One can only hope, in light of her obvious excitement, that she will tackle more jazz works by others in the future, if only to see how much she might flower still.