Amina Figarova - Road to the Sun

Label: AmFi Records, 2019

Personnel – Amina Figarova: piano; Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophones; Marc Mommaas: tenor and soprano saxophones; Alex Pope Norris: trumpet; Bart Platteau: flute; Lucques Curtis: bass; Brian Richburg Jr.: drums; Jason Brown: drums; Hasan Bakr: percussion; Sara Caswell: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage Ferber: cello.

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Classically trained pianist/composer Amina Figarova, a native of Azerbaijan who pursued her jazz ambitions in the Rotterdam Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, releases Road To The Sun, an 11-track album that celebrates the 20th anniversary of her band. Since 1998, it has been her intention to gather a smaller group that would have the same power as a big band, a wish guaranteed by the great musicians enlisted in this musical adventure.

Her compositional qualities translate in a few inviting pieces, from which I particularly highlight the title track. An immediate emotional impact emanates from the layered rhythmic figures that incorporate the lush arrangement. Combining melodic focus and speed, saxophonist Marc Mommaas creates some frisson by setting soprano maneuvers against the ritualistic 5/4 groove that cleaves with Hasan Bakr’s African drumming. Highly articulated, Figarova comfortably explores inside and outside the limits, and if her improv is short-lived here, her thoughts are extended on “All We Dance”, an unhurried piece that puts gentle snare drum rolls in evidence while blending relaxation and sensuality.

Both compositions referred above are tinted by a competent trio of strings that also actively inaugurates “Tumbling Prisms”, which transmits a sense of bliss on account of Figarova’s husband, flutist Bart Platteau.

Relying on a 4/4 swing, “On My Way” employs unison hard-bop lines with a double function: coloring the theme’s statement and serving as markers for the trio of soloists, in the case: trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, who reveals tradition insight; Platteau, whose fluid lines follow more the melodicism of Frank Wess than the leaps of Eric Dolphy; and an outgoing Wayne Escoffery, whose thrilling soprano rides are super adventurous. The latter is in the spotlight again on “Snow Mess”, blowing the tenor sax to inject shades of Joe Henderson into a cool walking groove that had decelerated the exuberant swing propulsion formerly offered to Norris.

The warm breeze of “Circles” begins in the piano ostinato that references the groove. There are Latin gestures impregnating not merely the rhythm but also the melodic outbursts of Escoffery, who delivers again on “No Time For”, a cerebral post-bop number with a fragmented melody that takes the album to an end right after inviting drummer Jason Brown to stretch out.

Figarova’s working band fairly deserves this celebration and its members give back, irrigating the bandleader’s inspired frameworks with their dedication, collective chemistry, and individuality.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Road To The Sun ► 02 - All We Dance ► 03 - Snow Mess