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Bible Belt Jazz

George Kanzler reviews recent shows and the scene in Asheville, N.C.

Amina Figarova in concert
Amina Figarova in concert
Amina Figarova in concert

The Bible Belt isn’t exactly a hotbed of jazz performance, so down here in the South Carolina Upstate (Greenville/Spartanburg area) we don’t mind a little travel time to catch a good concert. And although top acts like the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, John Pizzarelli and Regina Carter have played at Greenville’s or Clemson’s theaters over the last year, the most consistent jazz concert programs are “up the mountain” (as they say here) in Asheville, North Carolina. One of Asheville’s leading jazz presenters – others are the local Jazz Composers Forum and NCU-Asheville – is the WNC (Western North Carolina) Jazz Society, presided over by Bo Farson, which began its 8th season at the Diana Wortham Theatre the first Sunday in March with an adventurous and challenging program from the Amina Figarova Sextet.

Figarova, an Azerbaijani now living in the Netherlands, creates a distinctive, highly orchestral ensemble sound with her Dutch and Belgian Sextet, consisting of her husband, Bart Platteau, flutes; Ernie Hammes, trumpet and flugelhorn; Marc Mommaas, tenor sax; Jeroen Vierdag, bass, and Chris “Buckshot” Strik, drums. The two-set concert presented music from Figarova’s recent Above the Clouds CD (Munch Records) plus pieces being developed for a new recording, all of them written and arranged by the pianist/leader.

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