Home » Jazz Articles » Yelena Eckemoff And Cory Smythe: Imagination Unbound


Multiple Reviews

Yelena Eckemoff And Cory Smythe: Imagination Unbound


Sign in to view read count
Yelena Eckemoff and Cory Smythe have configured mirror images in music that reflect global mindsets of race, gender and class in the wake of COVID lockdowns and in the midst of climate change (among other controversies). The former postulates an insular existence populated only by a single individual and a sole figure with whom he finds empathy, while the latter formulates a world vision from a single point of view scanning the boundaries of culture(s). In keeping with the various perceptions arising from the main characters in their dramatic narratives, layered arrangements featuring an often exotic variety of instruments illustrate in great detail the challenges of contemporary existence(s). Eckemoff and Smythe have thus depicted worlds in constant change, but also proffered some tangible comfort in the sounds of their songs, while at the same time proffering an implicit bond between listeners of these imaginative works and the musicians who've brought the material to life.

Yelena Eckemoff
Lonely Man and His Fish
L & H Production

The beauty of pianist/composer Eckemoff's ambitious work here is that the carefully-crafted, multi-leveled concept never impinges upon the flow of the musicianship. Quite the contrary, as the arrangements not only further the colorful narrative (chapters of which consist of prose and paintings in the accompanying thirty-two page booklet), but also demonstrate how such detailed charts, in the right hands, replicate the open-ended spontaneity of improvisation. Toward that end too, the variety of instruments—various Japanese flutes by Masaru Koga, electric and acoustic bass plus multiple keyboards from the composer/bandleader—provide as much backdrop as pertinent detail to the unfolding storyline: the familiar sound of Kirk Knuffke's cornet (almost) offsets the oddity of certain tones and textures that permeate an environmental maelstrom no longer as familiar as it used to be prior to marked change. A near-perfect clarity and balance of recorded sound pervades the ninety-some minutes on two CDs, a logical reflection of this artist's overall creative lucidity.

Cory Smythe
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Pyroclastic Records

It's impossible to deny the courage in pianist/composer Smythe's reimaginings of this ever-so-familiar Jerome Kern showtune. Along the very same same lines as his imaginative collaboration with Sylvie Courvoisier devoted to Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring," the standard that serves as jumping off point for for an ambitious piece of work combining intricately arranged ensemble pieces and solo piano improvisations, the progression of which, by album's end, crystallizes into a metaphor for the contemporary global confluence (and conflict) of cultural/social campaigns. Whether intentional or not, the arrangements for horns, strings and voice stand as dual object lessons in point/counterpoint of political persuasion, those confluences and crosscurrents rendered as compelling as the engrossing graphic design of the package. Meanwhile, performances that take the form of multiple versions of the title piece, in combination with various versions of "Liquiform" and "Combustion," lend themselves to interpolations via a reprogrammed CD to simulate the (over) stimulation coursing through a society in perpetual flux.

Tracks and Personnel

Lonely Man and His Fish Tracks: CD 1: Lonely Man; Pet Store; First Evening at Home; Breakfast for Two; Man and His Fish; Accident; In Hospital. CD 2: Into the Wild; Life in the Pond; Survivor; Empty House; Song for Spark; Call of Friendship; Dreaming Together. Personnel: Yelena Eckemoff: piano, Rhodes, Ampli-celeste; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Masaru Koga: Japanese flutes; Ben Street: acoustic and electric bass; Eric Harland: drums and percussion.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes Tracks: Liquiform 1; Combustion 1; Liquiform 2; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Personnel: Cory Smythe: piano; Sofia Jernberg: voice / vocals; Joshua Modney: violin; Tomeka Reid: cello; Peter Evans: trumpet; Zekkereya El-magharbel: trombone; Ingrid Laubrock: saxophone; David Leon: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet; Stephan Crump: bass; Jessie Cox: drums.

Post a comment

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



Jonathan Karrant
Poetry of a City
Douwe Eisenga
Celebrating Bix!
The Bix Centennial All-Stars
Brazilian Match
Luiz Millan


On the record

Jonathan Karrant
Brazilian Match
Luiz Millan
Double Portrait
Giuseppe Millaci and the Vogue Trio
An Ever Changing View
Matthew Halsall

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.