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November 2008

Amina Figarova
Above the Clouds
Munich Records

Amina Figarova’s September Suite, released in 2005, remains one of the most complete of all jazz responses to the events of 9/11, emotionally and musically. Above the Clouds confirms that Figarova is among the most important composers to come into jazz in the new millennium.

She was a respected classical pianist in her native Azerbaijan and did not take up jazz until she moved to the Netherlands in her early 20s. Her years in the conservatory are a distant backdrop to the jazz she writes now. Yet her compositions, in their formal elegance and meticulous thoroughness, reveal a classical discipline.

Each of the 12 originals here is a total musical concept, expressed in intricate, airy, graceful lines that vividly portray their chosen subject. The gliding title track was written on an airplane, certainly in the window seat. “Bedtime Story” is a cautionary nocturne with dark overtones. “Summer Rain” is bright as a sun shower. “Sailing Through the Icy Waters” and “River of Mountains” are parts of a projected suite about the great English explorer Henry Hudson (and therefore about encountering the unknown). For these two tracks, Figarova expands her ensemble from six to nine pieces.

But her arrangements, in their varied colors and complex backgrounds, make even a sextet sound like an orchestra. The players, from the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, are Ernie Hammes and Nico Schepers, trumpet; Bart Platteau, Kurt van Herck, Tineke Postma, reeds; Louk Boudestein, trombone; Jeroen Vierdag, bass; and Chris “Buckshot” Strik, drums. They execute Figarova’s imagery with sensitivity, and then meaningfully expand her ideas in their own solos, especially Platteau. His flute is like a light of spirit and intelligence throughout this music.

Originally published in November 2008
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