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Yelena Eckemoff: Growing Into Jazz

Mark Sullivan By

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AAJ: A Touch of Radiance has American players, while Everblue has European players. How much does that change your approach in the studio?

YE: I always feel a bit awkward when I record overseas, because I hear so much foreign language I don't understand spoken during recording, and being a producer I'm concerned that I might be missing some input. But otherwise I see no difference between American and European musicians in general. Only as far as people have different personalities and bring different vibes with them, so all recording sessions are different. I think I have enough experience to say that if I provide clear directions and clear charts, the outcome will be more or less the same. Out of all the drummers I worked with, Jon Christensen did not follow any lead sheets, but we were rehearsing the day before session and he listened and made notes. All of my other drummers used my charts when they were recording; this might be the only difference I recall.

AAJ: So it's mainly a matter of you picking musicians you think would be appropriate to the music and letting them go.

YE: When I conceive a new project, at certain point I start developing a feel for what kind of band I'd like to have, that would be able to express my musical ideas the best way. And when I choose and confirm the band, it starts working vice-versa: I try to tailor my music to this band and to each of these musicians. But whoever agrees to record with me must respect my music and follow the structures and written notes, even though during recording or performance we might decide to make some changes or take a different approach, and it always turns for the best.

AAJ: Can you elaborate a little more on your plans for the near future?

YE: Of course, the label may change the release schedule, but I hope to release my Finnish quintet in the spring of 2016. This is a double CD called Blooming Tall Phlox. [Phlox is a flower genus, a key smell in that story] It is another conceptual album, this time about the Winter smells and Summer smells, so you see we played music about smells (laughs), and of course I wrote about every track and painted a picture [as she has on several earlier albums]. I'm not a poet, but when I try to throw away as many words as possible out of my first drafts, and just leave the essential ones, it somehow becomes poetry—at least to some extent. As an artist and producer I find this combined artistic expression to be paramount for me, because I feel that I am offering people an opportunity to experience what I myself feel on the most personal level.

Later in 2016 I hope to release the project we've just recorded this past September in NYC, with Mark Feldman on violin, Ben Street on bass and Billy Hart on drums. It will be called Leaving Everything Behind. I left a lot of things behind when we emigrated, but the concept is broader than just my immigration.

Finally, I am recording in December in California with Arild Andersen, Peter Erskine, and Paul McCandless—a project about the desert. There are many exciting ideas in my head that also might take me to another direction. I hope I will see them through one way or another.

I almost forgot, my first LP is coming out in November. The vinyl color will be transparent blue—so natural for Everblue.

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