Pianist Amina Figarova was born at the height of the Cold War, on the second of December, 1966, in Baku, Azerbaijan, behind the Iron Curtain. At the age of two, her parents encouraged her to learn to play the piano. When she was older, she studied classical music at the Baku Conservatory before moving on to jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In 1998, she attended the Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony summer camp in Aspin, Colorado. A few years later, she returned to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she resided until she and her husband, flutist Bart Platteau, moved to Forest Hills, Queens in 2010. She has worked with Toots Thielmans, Winard Harper, James Moody, and others.
Figarova and her band have a hectic tour schedule, and I was both happy to find that her current tour brought her to Portland a couple of weeks ago, May 17 to be exact. If you were one of the lucky people to catch her show at McMenamin’s Mission Theater in North West Portland, then I don’t need to tell you what a wonderful talent she is, both as performer and composer.
But, I’m going to anyway. J
Figarova has been a prolific composer and since 1998 she has released no less than nine albums as a leader. The one I want to talk about this week was her seventh, the 2008 release “Above The Clouds.”
The personnel for this album are:
Amina Figarova, piano
Bart Platteau, flute
Ernie Hemmes, trumpet
Nico Shepers, trumpet
Kurt van Herck, tenor sax
Jeroen Vierdag, bass
Chris “Buckshot” Strik, drums
Tineka Postma, alto sax
Louk Boundesteijn, trombone
“Above The Clouds” presents us with twelve songs, all composed by Figarova. With one exception the liner notes are silent regarding the motivation or meaning of the various songs, and that’s fine. Sometimes explanations can get in the way of simply enjoying the music, which is, after all, the purpose of this blog… To help you find enjoyable music.
The opening song has the deceptively simple title, “”A” Dance.” This one opens with a brief intro from bassist Vierdag before Figarova and the rest of the bad join in. One of the trumpeters, we are not told which, takes a solo about 45 seconds in and then defers to Figarova’s flying fingers. Three minutes or so in, Platteau takes a nice solo before handing the lead back to Figarova.
“Ernie’s Song” is next. It begins with an almost ominous sounding opening, Figarova hitting the low end of the keyboard and bassist Vierdag accompanying with a deeply resounding, almost menacing effect. Then the rest of the band joins in and things perk up a bit, although Vierdag and the foreboding vamp returns and is always in the background. When one of the trumpeters steps up, things again lighten up, and even though that deep vamp is always running the song stays fairly bright to the end.
Now we arrive at the title track, “Above The Clouds.” This is a bright, light, happy song, as one would expect after reading this, reproduced from the CD dust jacket:
That pretty well sums up the song. Forget about your troubles, just float lightly on a warm summer breeze above the clouds…
I knew I was not going to have time to discuss all dozen songs, and as I look at my watch I realize I was not mistaken in that. So we are going to skip ahead to an interesting tune titled, “Nico’s Dream.” A lone trumpeter and Figarova open this one. The title may lead you to believe that the trumpeter in question is Nico Shepers, and I suppose you’re probably correct. The liner notes, once again, are silent. About a minute and a half in the rest of the band joins in.
“Nico’s Dream” doesn’t exactly have what I would call a dreamy quality to it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And there are all kinds of dreams, aren’t there? Van Herck, whose tenor sax has been mostly unheard or relegated to the background, gets a nice solo. He is followed by one of the trumpeters, who is in turn followed by Figarova and shortly after that the song comes to a nice close.
The wonderful thing about all Figarova’s musical creations is that her stylings are unique, probably owing to her early grounding in classical music rather than bop or any of the other jazz flavors. It has left her with a sense of the music seemingly unlike any other jazz musician today. Many of her songs are both lively and light-hearted and seemingly do not take themselves too seriously. But the interplay between the instruments, while hardly unique in jazz, follows a complex path.
There are numerous YouTube videos of Amina Figarova and her music. Rather than select a few, I am giving you a like to a channel that has no less than 21 videos… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFqhOfPmAeQ&list=PLBhYAK51GoRU9v5gQvOA1RyGTGFf-uxlw
All in all, I have to say that “Above The Clouds” by pianist Amina Figarova would make a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Amina Figarova and her music, or to buy her CD’s, the best place to go is her web site.
Over at All About Jazz, they have a nice bio of her, as does the All Music web site.
Thank you for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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