By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.3.09
Buy CD: Above the Clouds
Hey gang, this time you get a twofer: a review of an excellent pianist/composer (Amina Figarova) and a geography lesson.
Figarova was born in 1964 in Baku, Azerbaijan, situated in the Caucasus between Europe and Asia. The country borders Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Iran and the Caspian Sea.
Figarova, raised by a musically appreciative family, grew up listening to her parents' records of Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, and became attracted to the piano at age 2. As is the case with many European musicians, she received much of her training in the classical field of 19th century compositions; as a student at Baku Conservatory, she concertized professionally and recorded the repertoire of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.
Even so, she was intrigued by jazz, tinged with an ethnic folk music mix.
She began to write her own music. She initially used commercial pop formats but, after visiting the Moscow Jazz Festival in 1988, she accepted an invitation to study composition in the Netherlands. Within a month, she switched to a jazz program; after a year, she went to the Berklee College of Music.
In 1998, she was accepted into the Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony in Aspen, Colo. She met her husband, multi-flutist Bart Platteau; they formed a combo and began touring internationally.
This album features their usual septet — piano, flute, bass, drums, trumpet, flugelhorn and sax — with an added trombone and sax on several tracks. The group is truly excellent: Figarova and Platteau in particular, but also the entire supporting cast as well.
Figarova composed and arranged all the tunes. The arrangements demand your attention: The album is lyrical and beautiful, and it really swings.
This is modern jazz at its best!