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Pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff Takes An Intriguing New Direction With 'Romance Of The Moon,' To Be Released May 10 By L&H Production

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I translated the Lorca texts into Italian so the musicians would know exactly what every composition is about. These are instrumentals, but the music still corresponds to the poems.
—Yelena Eckemoff
Yelena Eckemoff
Pianist-composer-conceptualist Yelena Eckemoff tries something a little bit different—but no less cerebral and audacious—with Romance of the Moon, set for a May 10 release on her own L&H Production label. Always a multimedia thinker, Eckemoff has previously made albums that incorporate her visual art as well as stories, poems, and concepts from her own imagination. This time, she presents a suite of compositions inspired by the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, as interpreted by the formidable Italian ensemble that includes bassist Luca Bulgarelli, drummer Stefano Bagnoli, guitarist Riccardo Bertuzzi, and world-renowned trumpet icon Paolo Fresu.

If this seems a departure from projects like Eckemoff’s 2023 effort Lonely Man and His Fish, based on her narrative of a human-pet relationship, or 2021’s Adventures of the Wildflower, tracing the life of a single plant, that’s because it is. Romance of the Moon has more in common with Eckemoff’s diptych of albums based on the biblical Psalms, 2018’s Better Than Gold and Silverand2022’s I Am a Stranger in This World. Those, however, were written as vocal settings (albeit performed without vocalists). These new compositions were conceived, written, and executed as instrumental music.

That’s not to say, however, that Eckemoff’s pieces are any less tightly intertwined with the Lorca poems that inspired them. In fact, the composer went so far as to translate the texts into Italian so that her sidemen “would know exactly what every composition is about,” she says. “That’s how important it was that they know exactly what the poem says. These are instrumentals, but the music still corresponds to the poems.” She translated them again, into English, for the listener’s reference.

Based though it is in poetry, Romance of the Moon nonetheless has a dramatic sweep. This occurs on the level of the individual tracks—as with Fresu’s taut, suspenseful trumpet line on “Barren Orange Tree” and Bertuzzi’s carefully developing guitar solo on “Old Lizard”—and across the full album, building from the reflective opener “Bells” to the moody crest of the title track, then to the evocative, satisfying resolution of “August.” Like Lorca and other great poets, Eckemoff thoroughly understands the importance of form, both macro and micro.

About Yelena Eckemoff

Yelena Eckemoff was born in Moscow, where she started playing by ear and composing music when she was four. By seven, she was attending the Gnessins School for musically gifted children, eventually matriculating at Moscow State Conservatory to study classical piano.

In her early twenties, Eckemoff 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. Soon, however, came Dave Brubeck’s groundbreaking 1987 concert in Moscow, which for Eckemoff was definitive. Jazz, she then knew, was where her destiny lay.

Of course, any thorough immersion in jazz had to be done in the United States, where Eckemoff immigrated in 1991 and settled in North Carolina. Not only did the move entrench her in the land that gave birth to jazz, but it gave her easier access to players who could do justice to her intricate ideas.

Finding those players was no easy task. Finally, though, a MySpace encounter with Danish bassist Mads Vinding—combined with a bold through-the-mail contact with drummer Peter Erskine—yielded her 2010 breakthrough, the album Cold Sun. Her subsequent collaborators have included Marilyn Mazur (Forget-Me-Not); Arild Andersen (Lions); Mark Turner, Joe Locke, and George Mraz (A Touch of Radiance); Mark Feldman (Leave Everything Behind); Chris Potter and Gerald Cleaver (In the Shadow of a Cloud); Ralph Alessi (Better Than Gold and Silver, I Am a Stranger in This World); and, on 2023’s Lonely Man and His Fish, Kirk Knuffke, Masaru Koga, Ben Street, and Eric Harland.

Romance of the Moon is Eckemoff’s first encounter with Fresu, Bulgarelli, Bertuzzi, and Bagnoli. “In jazz, the project is only finished when recorded with jazz musicians,” she explains. “I design each project for them to be able to express themselves.” Disciplined and free, these musicians inhabit Eckemoff’s beguiling themes with the distilled intensity of Lorca’s poems.

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Track Listing

Bells, Barren Orange Tree, Guitar, Ballad of the Sea Water, About Cats, Romance of the Moon, Window Nocturnes, Diamond, Adventurous Snail, Thirsty for New Songs, Memento, Old Lizard, August

Personnel

Album information

Title: Romance of the Moon | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: L&H Production


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