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Amina Figarova: Blue Whisper

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On Blue Whisper, her 13th recording as a leader, pianist-composer Amina Figarova mingles rhythmic strength with ardent poignancy. These 10 tracks, all composed and arranged by Figarova, are coaxed into being by a subtly shifting cast of musicians, all of whom respond with zeal to the earnest emotional force governing their bandleader’s sensibility.

Blue Whisper is at its most powerful when Figarova calls upon her natural sense of musical empathy. The title track builds on a haunting melodic figure from Figarova’s piano, undergirding rueful tenor and soprano solos from saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura’s swooning arco intro sets the scene for the stately “Moonrise,” with its plangent flugelhorn statements from Ernie Hammes. “Hear My Voice” is a disarmingly straightforward anti-violence protest anthem, Jason Brown’s rolling military-style drums backing bluntly effective spoken-word recitations from young Salhiya Bilal Tumba and Shamiyl Bilal Tumba. The Swahili sounds of another guest vocalist, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, grant “Hewa” a refined purity, the horns joining Charles’ voice to build a swelling ambience extended by a nimble yet sensitive tenor saxophone solo from Marc Mommaas.

But Figarova’s music is equally capable of cutting loose and delivering fast-paced, foot-tapping fun. “The Hustler” finds the pianist manipulating her instrument’s heavy low chords to brashly powerful effect, while the whimsical “Pictures” boasts breezy atmospherics and elastic improvisations from guest guitarist Anthony Wilson. “Juno” combines a galloping rhythm with the dexterous flash of trumpeter Alex Pope Norris. The stimulating “Moving Upwards” showcases vigorous solos from Escoffery and Figarova, and on “The Traveller,” bassist Luques Curtis serves up hard-edged funk while flutist Bart Platteau, the bandleader’s husband and longtime collaborator, splits the sky with muscular, trilling lines. Blue Whisper‘s title tells only half the story, for Figarova’s music offers melancholy quietude one moment, and the next, joyously shouts to the heavens.

Originally Published