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.'