A self-described 'old fashioned romantic,' Moscow-born pianist-composer Yelena Eckemoff once again demonstrates uncommon lyricism and a gift for melody on In the Shadow of a Cloud, her 11th recording since transitioning from the classical world to jazz back in 2010 with the release of Cold Sun on her own L&H Production label. With a pristine touch and refined sense of form, Eckemoff organically blends classical elements with jazz improvisation in her evocative pieces that strike a delicate balance between being through-composed and full of open-ended exploration. She is joined on this compelling double album by a stellar crew of New Yorkers in Chris Potter on multiple reeds and flute, Adam Rogers on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, all playing together for the first time.
Eckemoff pushes the envelope a bit further with her stellar crew on In the Shadow of a Cloud, her most upbeat and accomplished recording to date. Once again, Eckemoff wears many hats on this project by not only composing and arranging all the music, recruiting the band and producing the music for her own independent label, but also providing the evocative painting that graces the cover and the series of poems that accompany each track in the 28-page booklet.
Beyond the luxurious packaging, the highly affecting music on In the Shadow of a Cloud is imbued with remarkable band interplay and daring improvisations from the jazz heavyweights who serve as her sidemen on this ambitious double album set. And they each had high praise for Yelena in working with her on this tightly-knit project.
"The session went extremely well. Yelena has some very idiosyncratic music, very evocative, and it was a real pleasure to play it, especially with her and these other fine musicians," states Cleaver. Potter reflects, "The music itself awakens a feeling, and that seems to be the center of where she is approaching music from, which I like a lot."
Like her last two concept albums--2016's Leaving Everything Behind (about emigrating from her native Russia in 1991) and 2017's Blooming Tall Phlox (about how certain smells from her childhood in Russia still trigger magical memories)--In the Shadow of a Cloud is another personal statement from the prolific composer.
Whether it's her memories of the sound of grasshoppers in a country field, the massive iron railroad bridge with wooden walkways near her home, her grandpa's motorboat, the sensation of swinging in a hammock with her mother or the fragrance of wild lilies mixed with the smells of warm asphalt and potatoes and onions frying on kerosene burners, Eckemoff's In the Shadow of a Cloud stands as an evocative soundtrack for the life she left behind in Russia when she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina in 1991. "All of those places and people are lost for me," she says. "So I write about them, even in this short way. I want a longer life for them than just in my memory."
While some of her past works, like Leaving Everything Behind and Blooming Tall Phlox are largely nostalgic, the story of In the Shadow of a Cloud ends with an optimistic outlook at the present and future. As Eckemoff explains, "In the last piece, 'Tambov Streets on a Summer Night,' I turn down the opportunity to re-live my past as a shadow, invisible to all, and instead choose the present: Even though my heart aches with love/For the people and places of past days/I don't belong in those times anymore./My time is in the present/Where I have many tasks unfinished, where my life's work awaits me./No matter that the road before me grows shorter, I am eager to see what the future holds in store for me