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Above the Clouds by Amina Figarova

Above The Clouds provides a comprehensive cross section of pianist Amina Figarova's prodigious talent as a pianist and composer. Based in Rotterdam, Figarova and her all-Dutch backing ensemble literally fly through a dozen original Blue Note-inspired modern jazz pieces. Figarova herself is tough, inspired, no-nonsense sort of jazz pianist. A rhythmically sure player who manages to balance Horace Silver-like bluesy grit with the sort of pianistic finesse that belies her extensive classical training, Figarova doesn't bury you under fusillades of rapid-fire notes and chords (though it seems she can if she so chooses). Instead, her beautifully crafted solos really breathe - ebbing and flowing as needed for maximum emotional impact. Her compositions, though they clearly belong in the modern jazz mainstream, are appealingly varied and reflect her experiences in a variety of musical realms, including classical, pop, fusion, and the ethnic traditions of her native Azerbaijan.

Her close musical relationship with bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris Strik is readily apparent throughout Above the Clouds. Their sensitive yet muscular backing gives Figarova and her meaty horn section the freedom to roam far and wide. As strong as Figarova's compositions and playing are, it was her arrangements for the horn section that really made me sit up and take notice. Most of the pieces feature saxophone, trumpet and flute. Bert Platteau's flute is the real difference-maker - he provides an interesting edge that takes this CD out of the realm of the ordinary - sometimes softening a uniformly brassy attack, or adding an extra layer of unexpected harmony. He's also Figarova's go-to soloist throughout Above The Clouds.

Trumpeters Ernie Hammes and Nico Schepers also contribute some fine solos, as does tenor saxophonist Kurt van Herck, who sports a pleasantly burnished tone. The 3- to 4-piece horn section is fleshed out with Louk Boudenstein's trombone and Tineke Postma's alto saxophone for the CD's two centerpiece tracks: 'Sailing Through The Icy Waters' and 'River of Mountains.' Figarova makes extensive use of her expanded palette on both, coaxing some beautifully atmospheric Gil Evans-like sounds out of the horns on 'River of Mountains' and letting Postma and Boudenstein swap a few choruses with the regulars on the exuberant 'Sailing Through The Icy Waters.'

One thing that I really enjoyed about Above The Clouds was the sense that Figarova and her band never coast or take it easy. This is most apparent on Figarova's groove-oriented pieces, 'Chicago Split' and 'Ernie's Song,' which are anything but mellow, and are played with the same verve and conviction as uptempo hard-boppers such as 'Sharp Corners' and 'A Dance.'

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Amina Figarova
  • CD Title: Above the Clouds
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Munich Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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