Peter Erskine Trio: As It Was (ECM 2490-93)

As It Was.jpg

Peter Erskine Trio
As It Was

Release date: July 1, 2016

On paper, drummer Peter Erskine might have seemed like an unusual leader for a piano trio, but once the sounds of his collaboration with pianist John Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson made their acquaintance with uninitiated ear canals, there was no denying their efficacy as a unit. Erskine followed a trajectory all his own to enter the ranks of ECM, having already established his reputation with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson, and Weather Report before breaching ECM waters in sessions with John Abercrombie, Jan Garbarek, and Kenny Wheeler. The latter association brought him into fateful contact with Taylor and Danielsson, and their interactions as a touring band paved the way for the four albums featured on this Old & New Masters set. And so, when it came time to craft his first ECM leader date—1992’s You Never Know—the choice of sidemen was obvious. “Side” being the operative word here, for John Kelman aptly describes the band in his superb liner notes as an “equilateral musical triangle.” By then Danielsson and Taylor were both ECM veterans: the former via landmark recordings with saxophonist Jan Garbarek and pianist Bobo Stenson, the latter via another unorthodox trio with singer Norma Winstone and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler known as Azimuth. Says Erskine in those same liner notes of the band documented here: “The trio seems, by its mathematical and geometric natures, to offer the most possibilities where interaction meets form, and openness meets density.”

You Never Know

You Never Know (ECM 1497)

John Taylor piano
Palle Danielsson double bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded July 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With this first recording in the company of his European trio, Erskine made a lasting, if subdued, statement of intent. Its contours feel familiar, its moods even more so, and its overall feeling is one of peace and quiet passion. Considering the talent girding every corner of this triangle, it might seem unfair to single out one musician above the rest, but Taylor’s richly harmonic style is difficult to leave unpraised. Not only that, but his compositional contributions make up the bulk of a set awash in tuneful elegance. Take, for instance, the nine-and-a-half-minute opener, “New Old Age,” which seems to tell the story of a life in full circle. Taylor’s motive is the album’s heartbeat. Danielsson expands its EKG line and paves the way for Erskine’s airy considerations. This pattern repeats a cycle of experience, spinning the wheel of time and landing on “Clapperclowe.” This lively tune, softened by a montuno twang, features massage-like patter from Erskine. Another Taylor notable is “Evans Above,” a soulful Bill Evans tribute that sets the pianist dancing on clouds as he glides across landscapes past and present. Danielsson’s exquisite solo, flexible as a gymnast, is a glowing centerpiece. “Pure & Simple” might as well be called “Pure & Cymbal” for Erskine’s astute punctuations, each chiseling away at Taylor’s meteoroid on its path of sonorous fire.

Erskine himself contributes one tune: the sublime “On The Lake.” Its still and reflective sheen obscures a bass that moves like an evolutionary mystery beneath Loch Ness, even as home movies of children swimming, lovers canoeing, and friends gathering at the water’s edge flicker to the rhythm of the composer’s brushes. Three ballads by Vince Mendoza (whose tunes were heard to such great effect on John Abercrombie’s Animato) brings out the trio’s tenderest side, as in the 360-degree support of “Amber Waves.” And how can the empathic “Heart Game” not move us? It tugs and never lets go. If synergy is your bag, look no further than the trio’s closing rendition of “Everything I Love.” This Cole Porter joint is a window through smoke and time and practically bursts with effervescence at Taylor’s touch.

You Never Know would seem to have ushered in a new era for ECM, setting standards yet again for quality of recording, performance, and audience consideration. A dulcet and memorable date that lingers like the notes of a home cooked meal.

Time Being

Time Being (ECM 1532)

John Taylor piano
Palle Danielsson double bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded November 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Once the lyricism of “Terraces” eases its way into our hearts, we know we’re in for a sublime experience on Time Being. Erskine’s sensitivity behind Danielsson’s equally considered solo, peeking above the horizon like the edge of a flock in silhouette, reveals sensuous technique through the cymbals and butterfly snare of “For The Time Being,” the responsive brushwork of “Phrase One,” and the dance-like movements of “Palle’s Headache” and “Evansong.” Yet it is Taylor, playing the piano as a blind man might touch a face, who makes this date the melodic gem that it is. We hear it in “If Only I Had Known,” sparkling blurrily in a visual language all its own. Taylor continues to take in every movement of leaf and shade in “Page 172,” which feels like a dream an old windup clock might have, a child’s automaton stretching its hands toward darkness. For “Bulgaria” he takes some thematic cues from folk music of the same. The Bobo Stenson feel on this track pays lovely tribute to the milieu from which he has grown. Danielsson paints a complementary impressionism, putting full heart into every brushstroke of “Liten Visa Till Karin” and in the fluid rustle of “Pieds-en-l’air,” ending a cordially realized set.

These images speak to us in indications, each a fragment of a mosaic beyond even the musicians’ comprehension. It is that same font into which all great improvisers dip, a limitless well that proceeds and recedes simultaneously, churning sentiment at the edge of a pond where inhibition ends and light begins. This is jazz of delectable subtlety that will embrace you, and another masterpiece from a trio that grew in leaps and bounds with every release.

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As It Is (ECM 1594)

John Taylor piano
Palle Danielsson double bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded September 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In this follow-up date to 1994’s Time Being, Erskine, Danielsson, and Taylor hone their salute to the Bill Evans and Paul Bley schools in their most transcendent short story collection yet. Each of these three narrators lends nuance to the arc. Taylor embodies a sense of perpetual motion quite different from that of Erskine, who in “The Lady In The Lake” evokes with his brushes a quiet train ride. Where the pianism is impressionistic and rounded, the drums are precise and crisp. So, too, in “Esperança,” which through shifting seasons reveals a brocade of sentimental journeys. Danielsson is more than the tuneful support of “Glebe Ascending,” though even in this album opener we get intimations of the interactivity to follow. His engaging filament runs through tunes like “Woodcocks” and “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part,” leaving a trail of footsteps alternating in charcoal and pastel. And what of Erskine? Look to “Episode” for your answer. This urgent piece hits the ground running and stumbles through city streets, whispering of metal and wind and skin. I submit to the defense also “Romeo & Juliet,” which like the classic play begins in innocence before culminating in Erskine’s tragic catharsis of a solo.

As It Is eschews the formulaic, instead kneading instruments and gestures into uniform dough. Just when Taylor seems to launch into an extended monologue, Danielsson rises from the deep to overtake it even as Erskine throws a commentative thread through every loophole. The resulting tumble is fluid and soft. Despite the breadth of its sweep, the music operates at a microscopic level. This is top-flight jazz, recorded, composed, and packaged with artisanal endearment.

1657 X

JUNI (ECM 1657)

John Taylor piano
Palle Danielsson double bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded July 1997 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

ECM’s fourth and final album by the Peter Erskine Trio, JUNI best realizes the balance between fullness and sparseness the three had been seeking since their debut. An underlying Bill Evans influence—lifeblood of everything this trio plays—is even more nakedly portrayed. “The forming of this trio was partly a reaction to a lot of stuff that’s out there,” notes Erskine. “There’s so much music that’s just thrown at you, and it’s loud and it has no real dynamic range and all the spaces in the music are filled up. I wanted to oppose that trend.” To that end, if not beginning, Erskine and company enable a delicate asymmetry in which transformation is a necessary condition of life. Whereas before they created epic swaths of watery goodness, this time they concentrate on a subtler array of themes and moods.

Taylor again contributes the most tunes and opens with his wavering “Prelude Nr 2.” Raindrops seem to fall from his fingers in an abstract introduction, dark though chambering a shining heart. “Windfall,” previously heard on Journey’s End by the Miroslav Vitous Group, plots a smoother, Brazilian-flavored journey. Supple flowers grow wherever Danielsson treads, and his rounded solo foils Taylor’s dialogue with Erskine to remarkable effect. “Fable” rounds out the Taylor compositions with a ray of golden light and feathered shadow evoked by him and Danielsson respectively, and strung by the restless air currents of Erskine’s brushes. The latter add paternal love to the plush emotional exchanges of Danielsson’s “Siri,” in which Taylor is the true standout.

Erskine himself counters with a twofer of his own, including the fragmentary and whimsical “The Ant & The Elk” (notable for his subdued yet popping aside) and “Twelve,” from which the album gets its title (jūni means “twelve” in Japanese) and which evokes the barest whispers of swing, maintaining purposeful ambiance even at its most straightforward. “For Jan”—by Kenny Wheeler, for a relative of the same name—reflects Erskine’s work with Taylor in Wheeler-led ensembles. From a skittering drum intro it unfolds into a sparkling anthem with gorgeous slides from Danielsson, who polishes the edges of Taylor’s keys.

Like the second hand of a schoolroom analog clock, “Namasti” (Diana Taylor) passes smoothly through the minutes with precision. Its face may be secular, but its implications are spiritual and take things for the illusions that they are.

JUNI thus brands a perfect yin yang onto Erskine’s résumé. He holds the world on a wire, eliciting a most sonorous gravitation. He is the sun of these sessions. May his light touch your heart.

Yelena Eckemoff Trio review for All About Jazz

My first review for All About Jazz is now up, and should be of interest to ECM fans. The album in question is the Yelena Eckemoff Trio’s Glass Song, for which the Russian-born pianist brings bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Peter Erskine together for the first time in a sparkling session. Check out the review here, and be sure to watch the promo video below.

Glass Song

Ralph Towner: Open Letter (ECM 1462)

 

Ralph Towner
Open Letter

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars, synthesizer
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded July 1991 and February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It might be tempting to dismiss this Ralph Towner effort as New Age fluff, but the music is so gorgeous that any such considerations fall to the wayside. Yet the wayside is precisely where Towner sets his sights, which is to say that his interest lies in edges where musical idioms meet. He explores these lines, not unlike the blotted cover, with an ease of diction at the fret board that is recognizable and comforting. Drummer Peter Erskine shares the bill, but Towner adds a few synth touches for broader effect, as in “The Sigh,” which opens the session in a cleft of fluid energy.

There are two sides to this album. One is resplendent, exemplified in the congregation of 12-string and cymbals that is “Adrift.” This resonant vessel shares waters with “Magic Pouch” and “Alar” (a tympani-infused concoction that is one of Towner’s finest), both of which blossom in a tropical climate and funnel their tide-swept secrets into “Magniola Island.” Any possible tourist traps therein are elided by Towner’s ever-imaginative picking.

The other side comes through Towner’s solos. The jazzy riffs of “Short’n Stout” pair well with the intimate geographies of “Waltz For Debby,” while the blissful “I Fall In Love Too Easily” lobs us into the goodness of “Nightfall.”

Towner is as astute as ever in his execution. Whether it’s a standard or his own musical vision, we get the feeling that everything he plays is an open letter.

Garbarek/Vitous/Erskine: StAR (ECM 1444)

 

StAR

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded January 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

StAR is yet another classic from a fertile period for Jan Garbarek. Clothed in some of Barbara Wojirsch’s most striking typography, it holds an intimate portrait of one of ECM’s profoundest artists. Characteristic trails fade in the title track like infant spiders’ webs as bassist Miroslav Vitous dances a solemn dance. Garbarek unlocks a doorway in the sky, where the only keyhole is a star, before teleporting back to earth to find his roots in “Jumper.” The scatting syncopation here draws us into a vocal world. “Lamenting” begins with a keen from Garbarek and Vitous filled with such beauty that every tear in its vision changes into hopeful light, sketched into life by Erskine’s pastel accents and Garbarek’s distinctly burnished tenor. From scintinllating beginnings, “Anthem” purrs with snare rolls from Erskine, backgrounding a celestial wash. “Roses For You” takes its first timid steps widely and innocently in the bass, Garbarek again showing unique sensitivity, born of attention and experience. He flips slowly through an album of love and loss in equal measure, cradling it in a hand smooth with youth and turning pages with fingers wrinkled with age. “Clouds In The Mountain” brings us to the album’s most spirited territory, fluttering like eyelashes into the sun’s glare. “Snowman,” on the other hand, is a dose of wintry whimsy, cracked like an egg by some mystical overdubbing. “The Music Of My People” ends with a lovely homage to the inspirations of a saxophonist who has done so much to expand the art from the sea into the fjords, and beyond.

Abercrombie/Johnson/Erskine: s/t (ECM 1390)

 

John Abercrombie
Marc Johnson
Peter Erskine
s/t

John Abercrombie guitar, guitar synthesizer
Marc Johnson bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded April 21, 1988 live at the Nightstage, Boston
Engineer: Tony Romano
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After the resounding success of their two studio albums, Current Events and Getting There (with Michael Brecker), guitarist John Abercrombie teamed up with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine for this wondrous live 1988 recording from the Nightstage in Boston. It’s crystal clear from the groove laid down by Johnson and Erskine in the opener, “Furs On Ice” (think Getting There), that each of these men travels the edges of a constantly shifting yet with-it triangle. Abercrombie spins some Frisell-like chording before emerging with a soaring synclavier line in this, one of two Johnson-penned tunes, the other being a trimmed-down version of his “Samurai Hee-Haw” (see Bass Desires). Replacing Bill Frisell and John Scofield is no small order, yet Abercrombie fills these shoes with plenty of funk to spare. That unmistakable bass line, in fact, courts some of the most electrifying improv heard in a while from Abercrombie, who brings a Hammond organist’s sensibility to the proceedings via his fiery macramé. Erskine is also fantastic here. Abercrombie turns up the heat even more on his own two contributions. “Light Beam” is a particularly well-suited vehicle for synth guitar, and indeed seems focused like a laser splashed through the prism of his rhythm section. This is followed by a drum solo from Erskine, who shows us a nifty thing or two from his skill set, particularly in his dialoguing between bass drum and toms, before Abercrombie’s classic “Four On One” (from his seminal 1984 joint, Night) plies its musings and rounded edges with the record’s crunchiest playing. The three continue to converse beautifully in their group improv piece, “Innerplay.” Notable for Johnson’s delightful string games, it is a lasting testament to the powers of spontaneity.

The rest of the set is filled to bursting with a hefty portion of standards. Between Erskine’s delicate rat-a-tat timekeeping in “Stella By Starlight” and the delicacies of “Alice In Wonderland” (into which the rhythm section eases so carefully one feels more than hears it), there is much to stimulate repeated listening. Yet it is in “Beautiful Love” that we find the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. From the gentlest guitar solo Abercrombie spins a song even as he unravels it into a water-skating journey so gorgeous it almost weeps. The trio’s finest moment and easily one of Abercrombie’s most inspired (and inspiring) improvisatory passages on record. The final “Haunted Heart” almost reaches those same depths, smoothing out an extended guitar intro into a velvety soft ballad that stirs us into a pool of melting chocolate and lets us steep.

A sublime recording from musicians at the top of their game, for a game this most certainly is, played by those who know the rules as well as anyone.

Cold Suns and Warm Moons: The Music of Yelena Eckemoff

“Scenic” is the word that comes foremost to my mind when basking in the music of Yelena Eckemoff. Not only in the sense of being rural and picturesque, but also in the filmic sense, as if each album were a scene from an evolving motion picture. Snapshots of memory, flickers of time, and points of reflection: these are the nourishments on which Eckemoff’s sonic activities thrive. The Moscow-born, U.S.-based musician, composer, artist, and teacher brings her experiences of (re)location to bear upon each new project, and draws upon a deep spiritual awareness to give weight to the painterly melodies therein. Simultaneously, her music has an uncanny ability to manifest itself through feelings in lieu of images, conjuring instead a state of listening rather than a type of listening. With this in mind, I have set out to evoke four recent albums—of which Eckemoff has composed and produced every moment—and braid these reflections with an interview in which she was gracious enough to participate via e-mail. In the interest of starting our discussion, I begin with a rudimentary question…

Tyran Grillo: What role does music play in your life?

Yelena Eckemoff: Music has been a vital part of my whole existence since the first day of my life, as I was a daughter of a wonderful pianist—my dear mother Olga. My head has always been filled with music, and I started to play by ear and make up little tunes at the age of four, and then years of extensive professional training with some of the best teachers in the world, followed by decades of personal growth and never-ending evolution as a musician. I’ve been living and breathing music…this is pretty much all I care about, not counting of course my family.


The Call
(2006)

The genesis of this album came with the unexpected passing of Eckemoff’s dog, Daisy, in October of 2004. The titular call was first a heartfelt reaction to this loss, sprung naturally from the realization that Daisy would never again answer it. Yet through the improvisations that emerged in the coming year, lovingly transcribed and rendered in the company of a few committed musicians, Eckemoff found another calling, knowing that the absence left behind by a loved one can always be filled with creation. This recording followed an exclusive period of solo work, and the addition of Gayle Masarie on cello, Deborah Egekvist on flutes, and Michael Bolejack on drums represents an embrace of togetherness that the mourning process had perhaps previously obscured.

TG: Now that five years separates you from The Call, can you reflect further on its title and on the period of loss that nurtured its coming into being?

YE: The Call was my first CD that I recorded with live musicians. Before that I was doing solo piano recitals and working with the synthesizer and sequencer, while raising my children and trying to make it with my husband in our new country. But in the end of 2005 I felt “the call” to go back to interacting with live musicians and found several local ones with whom I started my own band. I was so excited and encouraged with the new perspectives that my creativity peaked, and I composed a lot of new music for my new ensemble.

After the piano’s light opening touch, the grand thematic statement that soon takes shape is its own call, one that speaks to each listener in different ways. To these ears, it is a prompt to act upon one’s desires for fulfillment, an urging toward spiritual purpose, a shift beyond the blindness of temptation. The piece ends in a sprinkle of raindrops, resting at the edge of darkness.

TG: The combination of instruments is delightful, the flute adding an obvious touch of breath to the sonic palette. One hears this especially in “Daisy,” which so beautifully conveys your beloved pet. What made you decide to introduce a flute into the mix? 

YE: In the past I’ve written a lot of music for various instruments, and I have always been motivated by the prospect of my music being performed, so I gladly wrote for any instrumentalists who I had available at the moment. When I work with a certain musician, I try to adjust my music to his or her performing style to achieve the best musical outcome.

Whimsy abounds in The Call. In everything from the titles to the arrangements, there is revelry to be experienced in both the playing and listening; that in the simple gift of music-making, one can gift not only melody, but also memories. Much of this comes through in shorter pieces like “Strolling Towards Sunset,” “Sushi Dinner” (a tongue-in-cheek ode to the atmospherics of ingestion), and “Questions.” These tracks are a light jazz blend, contrasting vividly with the somber “Ripples on Water,” and are a testament to Yelena’s eclectic fluency.

Others like “Sunny Day in the Woods” (in which the flute glistens against the circular motions of the piano),  “Suspicions” (which includes a lovely cello solo against a Satie-like lattice), and “Garden in May” (one of the album’s finest) leave us in little doubt as to their associations. In this sense they are quite photographic.

TG: Do you approach your music and images in a particularly scenic way, or do you perhaps approach the images through the music?

YE: Any strong impressions and especially feelings result in music being born inside me. I never try to come up with melodies—they just flow out of me constantly…often even at night. In the morning I write them down and sort them later…or forget about them.

Like the symphony of windy hands that rake the “Ocean of Pine,” the album moves in circuitous progressions. From the cinematic (“Temptation”) to the wistful (“Windy Day in the Countryside”), we are treated to a feast of time and possibilities. And as the title of “My Cozy Bed” implies, Eckemoff is interested in the simpler pleasures in life, uncluttered by unnecessary intellectual trappings and bound instead to a direct moral compass. This track also gets up to some jazzier business, anchored by heavy double stops in the cello. Masarie stands out again in “Full Moon,” a revolving door of pizzicato and sustained notes. Eckemoff and company save the best for last with “Imaginary Lake,” capping off an 18-track album that is sure to please many with its variety.

TG: In the liner notes for The Call, drummer Michael Bolejack lists his favorite musicians: Peter Erskine, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Bobo Stenson, John Taylor, and Keith Jarrett. These peak my interest, of course, for having recorded extensively for ECM. How, if at all, has the music of ECM influenced your own work? Does it comprise any portion of your listening life?

YE: I am ashamed to admit that I did not even know about the very existence of ECM until Michael Bolejack introduced me to the label and its production in the course of 2006. I was happy to realize that there are other musicians out there whose approach to modern music is somewhat similar to mine, and it gave me this feeling of unity with other musicians, which I was happy about.


Cold Sun
(2009)

This album represents the most fruitful shift in Eckemoff’s career by joining her with bassist Mads Vinding and drummer Peter Erskine. Her relationship with the latter is particularly striking and achieves a clearly discernible balance of distance and intimacy throughout. Erskine’s profoundly subtle craft—sharing peerage with Jon Christensen especially in the use of cymbals—ever so delicately paints in those gaps that the piano leaves untouched in its abyss. His gestures swirl like snowdrifts, each the afterthought of something internally more dramatic. These wintry nuances crystallize in sonic postcards such as “Scents of Christmas,” “Romance by the Fireplace,” and “Freezing Point.”

TG: Cold Sun comes across to me as a distinctly airy album. Its feet touch the ground only occasionally, as in the gnarled groove of “Stubborn,” making for a, dare I say, mysterious experience. Did this album develop any differently than the rest?

YE: There was The Call as a starter. Then my group gained a double-bassist and an oboe/saxophone player, and we rehearsed actively as a band, played gigs, and performed many new compositions that actually did not get incorporated into any of the CDs yet. Then there was Advocate of Love (2008)—a mostly trio album, reflecting a somewhat jazzier feel. The Cold Sun material was formed out of my 4-year experience working actively with my ensemble. The material of this winter album required a more improvisatory approach. And I reached out to the musicians who I thought would work best for that project.

Other tracks are more abstract and prompt us into deeper listening. “Silence,” for example, is not a literal description but more an evocation of state and mind. Like fingers running through hair, Eckemoff’s notes comb the ether. “White Magic” is a subdued evocation, which blends effectively into the touching dissonances of “Snow Bliss.” Yet it is in the throes of “Winter” that we at last encounter the synthesis of the album’s many threads. Brimming with glorious leaps and bounds, as well as more subterranean reflections, it brings us delicate closure to a moody and free-flowing album that is sure to please fans of Tord Gustavsen and Marcin Wasilewski.

TG: The piano trio is clearly a comfortable format for you. What is it about the combination that appeals to you and how does it enliven your expressivity?

YE: I suspect the piano trio will always be my favorite format, because I am a skilled pianist and the piano has always been a dominating expressive source for me. However, I do like the variety of the sounds, and I get many ideas that call for different sets of instruments (that I hope to see through in the future). But the intimacy and perfect balance of timbres in the trio is the most comfortable setup that surely has my first love.


Grass Catching the Wind
(2010)

As the unnamed sequel to Cold Sun, Grass Catching the Wind picks up where the former left off with “Anticipation of Spring.” Its shaded bass solo, courtesy of Vinding, sets the tone for the album’s crepuscular seepage. Nocturnal gestures unfurl in “Night of the Fireflies & Crickets” and the masterful “Neverland,” while “Summer Heat,” “Harvest,” and “Sonnet for the Flowers” flap like laundry hanging in an afternoon breeze, intermittently revealing the vast countryside behind.

TG: You seem to be overflowing with musical ideas. What is your creative wellspring? What inspires you?

YE: Musical ideas and melodies constantly bubble up and accumulate inside me. Making music for me is the way to live and to cope with my life’s ups and downs. If I can’t express myself in music, I virtually suffocate. I hear music everywhere, especially in nature, but my feelings and emotions are still the greatest source of my inspiration and stimulant for my creativity.

We also find ourselves in the more upbeat stylings of drummer Morten Lund in “Somebody Likes Jogging,” “Rain Streams,” and “Emerald World,” the latter being the grooviest leg on this tour and the album’s crowning highlight. The distinctive bass line in the title track also pulls us forward in fluid motion, fanned along by card-deck riffles from snare. And where “Overcast” engages shadowy figures in a puppet show of opaque emotions, “Beautiful Destruction” actually bonds them with light. This is music unveiled to reveal a softly beating heart, where memory is the only present.

TG: I hear so many memories in your pieces, as if each were an autobiography in miniature, the reflection of a time and place long past but ever alive in your heart. How much of you resides in this music?

YE: My music is me, no question about it. If you listen to my music, you get to know me better than you would through talking or anything else. My soul is completely bare in what you hear! I never try to show off or please the listener. My only aspiration is to express my thoughts and feelings as accurately as only I can. I can’t resist this overwhelming desire—to pour out my soul in sounds and reach out to the people who would like to feel the same vibes.


Flying Steps
(2010)

Eckemoff’s latest trio album marks the return of Erskine into the fold, and with it the inaugural “Promise,” a languid journey through innocence into resignation and back again, with an isolated rest stop or two along the way. Darek Oleszkiewicz takes the helm at bass this time around, completing a trio of superb insight. His dexterity brings a gentle urge to the foreground and gilds Erskine’s already filigreed approach.

Here is an album that works particularly vividly in images. “A Smile” seems to paint itself one tooth at a time, opening the pathways of its own emotional distance, while “Good Morning” scintillates like sunlight on a kitchen table, glinting off coffee cups, illuminating a newspaper, shimmering outside the window—and all of it threaded by Erskine’s delicate rolls.

TG: You clearly share a deep musical connection with Erskine. You even dedicate the inviting title track of Flying Steps to him. How did that partnership come about and how do you feel it has changed the way you play, listen, and perform?

YE: As I mentioned before, I was searching for like-minded musicians who I thought would feel at ease with my music. Peter was on my mind for a long time, because as far as I could tell listening to his playing, I felt that we would likely have many things in common. This proved to be completely true when we met and played together—a complete mutual understanding! Of course, Peter is a genius, and surely all musicians would feel great having him on board. And I was flattered at how respectfully Peter treated my music, and it made me so happy that he really liked it and that he enjoyed working with me. Working with him was a fabulous and joyful experience. Everything comes easy and naturally to Peter, and making a record with him was a truly exciting journey.

“For Harry” is a dance of piano and cymbals, all threaded by Oleszkiewicz’s invisible stitching. A memorable color shift occurs when Erskine lays down rims over Eckemoff’s light-as-a-feather touch. “Isolated” seems to represent the album’s theme. There is something expository in its activity, finding profundity in the everyday.

TG: Following up on the question of memory, there is an unmistakable note of nostalgia in all of your music that is only intensified with each new listen. In what ways does the past influence the immediacy of your musical creation?

YE: Nostalgia…everybody feels it toward childhood, their younger years, lost friends and family members, beloved pets and places… In my case it got even more complicated by my immigration and living so far from my homeland… A lot of pain is hidden inside the souls of many people. And it only grows stronger when you age and experience new losses… But not only losses. I am also feeling nostalgic toward many happy memories and events. It is said that passionate love of all kinds is painful: how true!

“Isolated” also clues us in on the enigma of the album’s cover. Though isolated insofar as it is elevated above all social and civil signs, as such it is also connected to the vastness of the great beyond. In this liminal space one finds the aptitude of solitude.

“Where is Maxim?” forms a trilogy of sorts with “Tears Will Come” and “Insomnia,” for each evokes weighted emotions with equal lightness. For me, more overtly personal tracks like these reach deepest. Take, for example, “Mama,” which is a brilliant and sublime confluence of time, space, and technique that seems to constitute the very heart of what Eckemoff is capable of at her best. Oleszkiewicz shines again in “Steps,” especially in his captivating solo. We end with “Tomorrow,” a soft exercise in humility and the unpredictability of circumstance.

TG: Where do you see your music, and your life, going next?

YE: While new music keeps piling up, I have quite a few projects on hold, including a vast work with Old King James Biblical Psalms. At the moment I am getting ready to release a new CD, Forget-Me-Not, which I have just recorded with Marilyn Mazur and Mats Eilertsen this August in Copenhagen. And now I am truly looking forward to a couple of very exciting projects (in planning) for the next year: I cannot disclose the details yet, but it is shaping out to be the next important step in my musical journey.

To learn more about Yelena Eckemoff and purchase CDs, please visit her website.