One of the most pleasant surprises and highlights of the 2011 Fox Jazz Festival was the appearance of The Amina Figarova Sextet. The ensemble’s stellar performance, showcasing her soaring compositions and piano virtuosity, earned them a growing legion of fans in the Fox Cities.
Her latest release, “Blue Whisper,” arguably the best in a series of consistently strong albums, has already garnered considerable international critical acclaim and reinforces her status as one of the finest jazz composers in the world. The compositions “Pictures” and “The Traveler” were commissioned by Jazz from Lincoln Center for its 2014-15 New Jazz Standards series. “Blue Whisper” is Figarova’s second album, after “Twelve,” on In + Out Records, an independent label based in Freiberg, Germany.
In addition, “Blue Whisper”, has been accepted into four categories on the 58th Grammy’s Ballot: Improvised Jazz Solo for the tenor sax solo by Marc Mommaas on “Hewa;” Jazz Instrumental Album; Instrumental Composition for “Hear My Voice;” and Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals, for “Hewa.”
The album includes 10 original Figarova compositions, inspired by her deeply personal, highly evocative responses to social turmoil, distinctive personalities she’s encountered and universal transitions of life. While her technical virtuosity is clearly evident, her playing sounds effortlessly elegant regardless of the tempo. Her melodies are consistently pleasing and uplifting.
Moods range from the haunting beauty of the titular track “Blue Whisper,” – her interplay with saxophonist Wayne Escoffrey is exquisite – as well as “Moonrise” and “Hewa” (featuring lyrics in Swahili by Sarah Elizabeth Charles) to the straight-ahead momentum of “Moving Upwards,” “The Hustler” and “The Traveler,” to the sophisticated playfulness of “Pictures,” “Marians” and “Juno.”In “Hear My Voice,” perhaps the most interesting and thought-provoking piece, over a martial beat and sorrowful, resolute horn choir, an eight-year-old girl (Salhiya Bilal Tumba) earnestly strips out the complications of the adult perspective and, from a child’s perspective, simply urges an end to violence world-wide and, with laughter, a request to “let kids be kids.” Figarova utilizes the rhythmic laughter in the final passage as an instrument to augment a spare but poignant, understated horn and drum arrangement.
As a composer, Figarova is generous in creating opportunities for her bandmates to showcase their own superb talent and create synergy simultaneously. The playing is technically superb yet never sounds forced. Throughout all tracks, her classically founded touch, her lilting melodies, luminous harmonies, often understated yet always propulsive rhythms and star soloists come together with immaculate sophistication. Trumpeters Ernie Hammes and Alex Pope Norris, saxophonists Escoffery and Marc Mommaas, bassists Luques Curtis and Yasushi Nakamura, drummer Jason Brown, flutist Bart Platteau — Figarova’s partner and husband of nearly 25 years – and electric guitarist Anthony Wilson (on “Pictures”) are featured advantageously in spontaneous, creative engagement with her compositional themes and intentions.
Platteau deserves special recognition as his world-class flute playing adds a distinctive signature to the Figarova sound and greatly expands her compositional options.
Figarova has a compelling personal story as well.
She was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and as a child studied to be a classical concert pianist. In the late 1980’s she entered Rotterdam Conservatory (Holland) to pursue jazz, coming to the United State in 1989 to complete her formal education at Boston’s Berklee College of Music (where she met Platteau, a fellow student from Belgium). In 1998 they were invited to the Thelonious Monk Institute’s summer jazz colony in Aspen. Since then, she has toured constantly for over a decade of bookings in major U.S. jazz clubs, concert halls and festivals.
There are many in the Fox Cities who are hoping that her travels bring her back the area very soon; in the interim, “Blue Whisper” –and her other CD’s – are available at Square.com. For more information, go to: www.aminafigarova.com