Thursday, October 1, 2009

Amina Figarova at the Forefront of Mainstream Jazz

Netherlands based Amina Figarova and her band recently toured the states, including an appearance at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival. Her most recent album Above the Clouds (Munich Records) gives good evidence that the audiences must have been treated to some fine, thoughtful mainstream jazz. She plays excellent piano, writes very memorable, skillfully crafted music and (I gather) arranged the music on the session, which is deftly scored for a largish mid-sized ensemble.

An earlier release of hers, September Suite, was a moving paean to the victims of 9-11, and the feelings felt by those who experienced the traumatic events wherever their lives happen to place them. Above the Clouds has a contrasting mood of hopefulness suited to the world we currently occupy.

Amina's playing and writing take something out of the Herbie Hancock Blue Note stylistic approach, especially what he was doing with mid-sized ensembles just before the Mwandishi Afro-Fusion period of his music. That does not mean she is copying him. She just shows a sophistication in harmonic and melodic realms both in her playing and writing, and she voices for the band with real finesse and sensitivity. All these qualities were present in Herbie's mid-period work in a particular way. And that resonates with Amina's work. Let's just say she builds on such a past examplar to create a music of her own that is mainstream, but contemporary. She's an artist for today.

The band is very well-rehearsed and quite good. Besides some wonderful piano work from Amina, there's Bart Platteau's ravishing flute and a solid ensemble of good improvisers.

This is an exceptionally fine effort. If she is having success I am happy, for she well deserves it. Listen to Above the Clouds and I think you'll agree.

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