Amina Figarova’s 14 albums (beginning in 1995) constitute one of the richest bodies of work by any jazz composer in the new millennium. Her career has sustained consistency and continuity. As the 14 releases succeeded one another, she extended her reach as a composer and arranger; her ensembles, usually sextets, moved gradually from European to American personnel (as Figarova, originally from Azerbaijan, relocated from the Netherlands to New York). Her work has long deserved interpretation by a full orchestra, and her previous recording, Road to the Sun, approached a large format, with 12 players including a three-piece string section.
Figarova’s journey through the acoustic mainstream has never taken a hard left turn—until now. Edition 113 is her new electric project: Rez Abbasi (guitars), Bart Platteau (flute and EWI), Yasushi Nakamura (electric and acoustic bass), Rudy Royston (drums). Figarova plays an array of keyboards, including a Nord. Persistencecontains sonorities and grooves that are new for a Figarova band: trilling keyboard washes; Platteau’s flute filtered through electronic effects; Royston’s heavy backbeats; even a rapper and a spoken-word poetaster on two (dispensable) tracks. Typically graceful, even yearning Figarova melodies like “Lil’ Poem” and “Morning Blue” take on hard edges.
Those hard edges start with Abbasi. The guitar is an instrument almost entirely new to Figarova’s world, but Abbasi never sounds like an intruder. Working from deep inside her ensemble, he transforms it. On “R Song,” his solo flows so seamlessly into Figarova’s that you might miss the moment when gleaming guitar notes have become the chimings of a keyboard. “R Song” is one brilliant unified treble fabric, unfolding.
Persistence is an interesting departure for Figarova, but here’s a wish for her next album: It should be her long-awaited full-scale orchestral project, and Rez Abbasi should be in the guitar chair.