The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, Calif., is as polite and patrician an environment for jazz as the planet provides. It is a nonprofit membership library (one of only 16 in the United States) located three blocks from the beach in a city where, after the real estate bubble burst, average home prices plummeted to $1 million. The Athenaeum was not designed as a performance space, but it works beautifully for music. The acoustics are excellent in the main gallery, where 150 chairs are set up for concerts, and a beneficent ambience is created by the long shelves of music books and the art covering the walls.
Libraries are supposed to be places where silence prevails, but the quiet of the Athenaeum feels expectant, perhaps because jazz has been presented there for 20 years. Program Coordinator Daniel Atkinson has brought in important artists (Lee Konitz, James Newton, Harold Land), many of whom were not yet widely perceived as important when he first booked them (Brad Mehldau, Tomasz Stanko, Steve Wilson, Bobo Stenson, Bill Charlap, Tord Gustavsen).
The sextet led by Amina Figarova that played the Athenaeum on Feb. 26 was a band uniquely suited to the library’s atmosphere of high culture. Not that Figarova’s music lacks energy and passion. But her ensemble plays an especially refined, disciplined, sophisticated iteration of the jazz art form.