Yelena Eckemoff
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Yelena Eckemoff


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"Advocate of Love"

Eckemoff’s new album, Advocate of Love, shows this remarkable pianist’s influences, namely the modern classical movement, contemporary and be-bop jazz as well as others. It is remarkably mature and often programmatic in nature. It is not conducive for casual listening or as background music, as Eckemoff’s compositions demand attentive listening—and are quite worthy of it.
"Rising from Within," the album opener, is similar to some of George Gershwin’s compositions, with Eckemoff incorporating the famed composer’s keen ability to seamlessly blend jazz and classical music. Featuring guest cellist Gayle Masarie, there are even bit and snippets of Argentine tango along with some of bluesy harmonies found in Porgy and Bess, as well as elements of 20th century impressionist composers like Debussy. Eckemoff’s piano, joined by Pat Lawrence on double bass and Michael Bolejack on percussion produces a larger than trio sound, programmatic and colorful.
The aromatically entitled "Fresh Air & Coffee" begins with Lawrence and Boeljack jousting around with the tempo and flavor of the tune. Eckemoff’s sweeping piano arpeggios then enter the mix, which more than hint at her many years of classical training, producing a broad swath of cascading tones. Even though you’re listening to a jazz piano trio per se, given Eckemoff’s unique approach to composition, it sounds as if you’re hearing an orchestral piece. This is sophisticated music, spanning the two broad genres of classical and jazz, with many additional spheres of influences as well. Lalo Shiffrin comes to mind, as does Keith Jarrett, and in some ways, Oregon as well. The piece alternates between passages of light and dark, punctuated by Eckemoff’s percolating piano playing.
Propelled by Bolejack’s drumming, with his sixteenth note high-hat rhythmic pattern, “Love Train” begins as a quick-tempo piece with Eckemoff’s piano providing the harmonic navigation. One of the interesting things about this piece—and Eckemoff’s original programmatic compositions in general—is that, unlike many jazz tunes, she doesn’t rely on the same structure for each tune (i.e., g., head, chorus, solo sections, repeat the head, then finish). Like many classical pieces, her songs involve several different sections, some of which repeat, whereas others are bridges to new thematic developments in and of themselves. Quite refreshing; but again, it may require more attentive and probably repeated listening to understand and grasp how her songs unfold.
Clocking in at less than three minutes, “Enchanted” is the shortest piece on the album. Like many of her other compositions, Eckemoff’s solo piano alternates between introspective, almost melancholy passages and more light-hearted motifs. Da, there is something particularly Russian about her music, filled with grandeur yet also a sense of longing.
Eckemoff’s Advocate of Love is a distinctive, authentically sophisticated album. Think of it as a classical work performed by a jazz piano trio, or a jazz album performed by a 20th century classical chamber trio. Somewhat akin to the Jacque Loussier Trio’s jazz approach to Baroque music but instead, taking its cue from classical music created several hundred years into the future. Each of Eckemoff’s compositions take the listener on a different sonic sojourn, with circuitous pathways teeming with aural discoveries. You could dance to it, but you’d best have some training in ballet, modern and jazz dance. Eckemoff’s compositional skills would also prove fortuitous for creating film scores and other thematic works. Not for the light-hearted, but very well done.
- Robert Kaye for "Abstrax Logix"

""Breeding a new species of music""

Classically trained composer Yelena Eckemoff says that classic rock bands such as Queen, Deep Purple and especially Pink Floyd(!), have been tremendous influences on her and her music since she was a teenager. Not exactly the traditional muses one expects a classically trained pianist to cite as inspirations.

But Eckemoff isn't as concerned with musical tradition as she is with actively capturing various creatures of sound, fusing them together and giving life to another breed of musical species.

Her education and background embraced a "vast variety of (musical) styles and methods of expression.

I learned to understand and appreciate them all," Eckemoff says with an orchestral Russian accent.

Some of the other musical styles she has absorbed include jazz, be-bop, funk and jazz-rock. However, her artistic heart belongs to the piano.

"My mother was a great piano teacher. I heard her playing the piano and giving lessons since the day I was conceived. At 2 years of age, I was getting behind the piano and pretended I was playing Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky, announcing the names of their pieces to the 'public,'" she says.

Growing up in Moscow, then moving to the United States in 1991, she continued to sculpt her craft and bathe herself in different musical styles. Earning a master's degree in piano performance and pedagogy from Moscow State Conservatory, Eckemoff began concentrating her energies on composing her own music.

"Growing older, I became more interested in performing my own music. I always loved to perform, but my overwhelming drive to compose music had always interfered with my performing career."

As Eckemoff created her music, she found that using studio technology to replicate the instruments she needed to form her compositions lacked the warmth of working with fellow composers. This led her to ask a friend, Greensboro cello player Gayle Masarie, to add her creative touch to Eckemoff's canvas, and The Yelena Eckemoff Ensemble was born. The Ensemble consists of Eckemoff, Masarie, flutist Deborah Egekvist, bassist Nathan Scott and percussionist Michael Bolejack. The Ensemble recorded and released its first CD in 2006, "The Call," an album that houses Eckemoff's distinct but seamless fusion of the free spirit of jazz and the bombast of a symphony. The Ensemble will be performing several tracks from this album, plus some of Eckemoff's earlier solo material, Tuesday at UNCG.

Eckemoff hopes that attendees of the Ensemble's performance will be awash not only in "The Call's" cornucopia of sound, but also, she says, "I hope that they will like it and feel emotionally recharged and inspired. I hope that my music (sounds) fresh, exciting and meaningful to them and will help them dream, remember and contemplate."

Contact David Locklear at

- Go Triad magazine, Greensboro NC


Yelena Eckemoff has done something almost entirely new--she's created what could very well be considered a new musical genre--classical world improv, if a name must be put to it. Drawing mainly, perhaps, on classical music, she's figured out a way to seamlessly incorporate world, jazz, and chamber ensemble elements.

The result? Music of uncommon beauty and pathos.

With an extensive, one might almost say comprehensive, classical piano foundation, Eckemoff and her altogether sympathetic band have produced one of the great, original discs of the new millennium. One of the things I love most about this disc is that the leader, though a classically trained pianist of the absolutely highest accomplishment, exhibits none of that uptightness that often plagues classical artists who assay other genres: indeed, Eckemoff effortlessly gambols and frolics in world-chamber jazz precincts as if she invented and absolutely owns this rarified music.

Her band (Deborah Egekvist, flute, bass flute; Gayle Masarie, cello; and Michael Bolejack, drums), players of uncommon empathy with chops to burn, lock into the highflying vibe with nary a misstep, deftly following the leader through the most arcane and heartfelt moves. Michael Bolejack, whose resume reads like a whose who of pop/soul/jazz/new grass greats, cites Peter Erskine, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, and Jon Christensen as his favorite drummers: one can hardly imagine greater lights as percussionists, and he absolutely lives up to those impossibly high standards. Flautist Deborah Egekvist plies a Grieg/Faure sensibility to great effect; there's huge depth and mystery in her playing. With absolutely spot-on intonation and a rich, dark tone, she consistently nails this technically challenging but emotionally charged music. Cellist Gayle Masarie channels the best of Yo Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, consistently framing the bottom of this music with statements of great depth and felicity.

But it's the leader who makes the strongest impression: the overall concept, flawlessly executed by all involved, all tunes, and the majority of solo statements are hers. That she manages to compose, lead, and improvise with such absolute assurance and aplomb marks her as a consummate musician. Moreover, she has a unique approach to the piano, at once delicate, precise, and powerful, eliciting from the instrument passion, nuance, and strength as called for.

Standout tunes include the beguiling Japanese flavored "Sushi Dinner," the probing "Questions," and the provocative "Temptation." I'm also very taken by the title track, "The Call," filled with mystery and longing amid some absolutely stunning interaction among flute, piano, and cello (with both striking pizzicato and arco playing), "Daisy," "Garden in May," and "Sunny Day in the Woods" with their French Impressionist feel (and English, too--Delius comes to mind), the virtuoso piece, "Windy Day in the Countryside," with its evocative percussive stylings, and perhaps my two personal favorites, "Full Moon," its lushness calling to mind warm September evenings with a huge yellow harvest moon suspended just above the Eastern horizon, and "Imaginary Lake," almost eight minutes of pure musical magic. But there's not really any weak tunes in the bunch. Whether balladic or up-tempo numbers, everything resonates with our deepest feelings and longings.

Absolutely not to be missed by anyone who wants gorgeous, brilliantly inspired music of the highest accomplishment.


""A Triumph!""

"The Call" is Yelena Eckemoff's second CD release this year and her first recording of original music for acoustic piano ensemble. Eckemoff's twelfth album is perhaps her most mature and fully-realized music to date. The quartet of musicians is comprised of Eckemoff on piano, Gayle Masarie on cello, Deborah Egekvist on flute and bass flute, and Michael Bolejack on drums. All four musicians have extensive and impressive credentials and play extraordinarily well together. Eckemoff was trained at the Moscow Conservatory and has a very rich background in classical music, jazz, experimental jazz-rock, and composition for various instruments and voice. All of those influences can be found in this music, making it very difficult to classify - a good thing! While not necessarily for the casual listener, Eckemoff's music is complex enough to satisfy the seasoned classical music lover and accessible enough for those dabbling in art-music. Several of the eighteen pieces are more jazz-oriented than classical, so it's a fascinating work.

The music for "The Call" was composed over a one-year period and varies widely in style and approach. Always full of emotion, some of the pieces are dark and mournful while others are joyful and full of energy. My favorite track is the title track, which opens the CD. Effectively conveying a real mix of emotions, this piece is mysterious, triumphant, dreamy, rhythmic, energetic, peaceful, and gorgeous. It swirls and dances, sparkles and glides, marches ahead and reflects back. It's amazing that one piece of music can say so many things in 4 1/2 minutes without seeming fragmented or disorganized. Brilliant! "Daisy" is a beautiful and deeply-felt piece composed when Eckemoff's beloved dog died unexpectedly. Full of love, sorrow, and happy memories, it will touch anyone who has experienced this kind of wrenching loss. "Sunny Day In the Woods" has a warm, serene mood and a feeling of freedom. "Suspicion" is another favorite. It begins gently and innocently, but a questioning feeling soon develops and then agitation. The piece builds momentum as the torment increases, pulls back a bit and questions more rationally and hopefully until doubt starts to take over and the intensity returns. This piece tells quite a story! "Forgotten Perfume" is a lovely daydream set to music. "Temptation" is dark and agitated, being pulled in two directions. Very effective! "Garden In May" is warm, graceful, and enchanting. "My Cozy Bed" is, well, cozy! The flute and cello create a dreamlike mood that becomes more intense and dramatic, melting back into the original theme. "Imaginary Lake" closes the CD with a more experimental piece that evokes a lot of visuals - placid water, birds flying, fish jumping, leaves fluttering. At almost eight minutes, it evolves naturally and peacefully - another very beautiful piece!

"The Call" is quite an achievement for Yelena Eckemoff. She is planning concerts with the ensemble - something to look forward to! Highly recommended for the serious music fan.

- Piano Sollo Publications


“Piano Series, v.1” (audio CD, 1997) - classical piano music by E. Grieg, C. Gluck, F. Chopin, W. Mozart, R. Schumann and P. Tchaikovsky.

“The Birth of Emmanuel” (audio CD, 2000) - original instrumental music with the Scripture narration from St. Matthew.

“When Christmas is Near” (audio CD, 2001) - original piano arrangements of Christmas songs.

“Kaleidoscope of Life” (audio CD, 2002) - original instrumental music of entertaining nature with real life sound effects.

“Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (audio CD, 2002) - original instrumental music. 2003

“Piano Chronicles, album 1” (audio CD, 2003) - original instrumental music composed at age 16 - 24.

“Piano Chronicles, album 2” (audio CD, 2003) - original instrumental music composed at age 28 - 40.

“Travel” (audio CD, 2005) - selections from Yelena’s original instrumental music CDs released in 2000-2005, including 3 songs from the upcoming album, "Medieval Symphony".

“Piano Series, v.2” (audio CD, 2005) - classical piano Music by D. Scarlatti, L. V. Beethoven, F. List, F. Chopin, M. Glinka and P. Tchaikovsky.

“The Call” (audio CD, 2006) - original instrumental music performed by Yelena Eckemoff Ensemble (piano, cello, flute and drums).

“Advocate of Love” (audio CD, 2008) - original instrumental music performed by Yelena Eckemoff Trio (piano, double bass, and drums).



Yelena Eckemoff - Leader, Pianist, Composer

Born in Moscow, Russia, Yelena started to play the piano by ear and compose music at the age of four. Recognizing her potential, her mother, a pianist, and father, a sound engineer, raised her to be a classical pianist in the elite Gnessins Academy - a private School for musically gifted children, where she studied piano with Anna Pavlovna Kantor (a teacher of the renowned pianist, Evgeny Kissin). In her teens, in addition to her academic studies, Yelena began to study rock, jazz, and world music and completed two-year studies at the experimental Moscow Jazz Studio. Upon graduation with a Master’s Degree in piano performance and pedagogy from the Moscow State Conservatory, she started to develop her career as a concert pianist/composer, performing classical piano repertoire, as well as her own music.
Her musical career was temporary interrupted by starting a family and immigrating with her husband and three young sons to the USA in 1991. After getting settled, Yelena continued her music career with even greater intensity. She played numerous piano recitals, composed, experimented with electronic music in her studio, and recorded several classical and original music albums under the L & H Production label.
In 2006, together with a drummer (Michael Bolejack,) a cellist (Gayle Masarie,) and a flutist (Deborah Egekvist,) she recorded an acoustic album of original music, “The Call”, which started a new era in her musical journey. The Yelena Eckemoff Ensemble played a few gigs to promote a new CD, including a concert at UNC-Greensboro.

As Yelena was writing new music, she formed a jazz Quartet with an oboe and saxophones player, Evan Thee and a bassist Gray Hackelman, to further develop her exploration of modern jazz and music improvising. The Quarter performed several concerts in churches and Colleges, including Greensboro college "Improvising Music Series" and Averett University.

In the spring of 2008 Yelena welcomed a new bass player, Pat Lawrence, into the band, as Gray was making plans to relocate after his graduation, and the Trio recorded a new album, “Advocate of Love,” which was released in the fall of 2008. The Trio performed at Carrboro Music Festival on September 28, 2008, and is currently recording another album, "Winter."

Besides her intensive composing work and activities with her band, Yelena is a founder and leader of the “Singers of Hope Chorus,” choir director at Prospect UM church and a piano teacher, giving lessons at her residence in Blanch.
Yelena is first and foremost an innovative and prolific composer, yet her music, with all its thoughtfully creative structure, gives much room for improvisation – both structured and free. This crossover results in a unique form of free jazz which sounds like no other, striking with its outstanding melodies, exquisite taste and powerful emotion.
Behind are the years of preparation: searching, hard work, passionate dedication, evolving, and striving to excel. There is a longer road ahead. Yelena says, “Coming to the improvising music and jazzy sound from the classical music perspective, I believe I have something new and exciting to offer to the fans of modern creative music, and my talented band feels the same. We are ready to welcome every chance to share our musical art with the world.”

Pat Lawrence - double bass

Pat Lawrence was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he began playing acoustic bass at the age of 14. In 1989 he moved to Chicago where he lived for 14 years trying himself in a wide variety of contexts including jazz, rock, improvised, and classical music. While studying bass at the college, Pat performed with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago under such conductors as Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim. Being strongly drawn to Chicago’s burgeoning free music scene, he had the opportunity to play with some of the city’s best improvisers, including Gene Coleman’s Ensemble “No Amnesia,” Guillermo Gregorio, Jim O’Rourke, Fred Lomberg-Holm, and Tim Mulvenna.

After relocating to the South, Pat has continued to foster long-distance collaborations, such as with Chicago musician and video artist, Robbie Lynn Hunsinger, on the short experimental film "Waterwind," as well as a new recording project with the New York City guitarist, Bruce Eisenbiel. In North Carolina Pat continues to follow his many interests as both a studio and freelance musician. He has been playing in many genres and with the area’s finest musicians including Eugene Chadbourne, the duo “Go!” with Mahlon Hoard, the Dave Fox Group, and, most recently, with Yelena Eckemoff.

Pat says that in the dynamic Yelena Eckemoff Ensemble he can fully express his broad range of skills and expertise with classical, jazz and improvised music – all at the same time.

Michael Bolejack - Drums

A session drummer for the Salt Mine Studios (NC) since 1990, Michael has played with many bands and musicians, including