Looks can be deceiving. A quick glance at the cover of Amina Figarova's Come Escape With Me, with Figarova staring wistfully off into the distance, and one might be led to the conclusion that this is yet another female singer arriving on an already overcrowded scene.
One couldn't be more mistaken. Figarova, an ex-pat from Azerbaijan now living in the Netherlands, is in fact a fine pianist and composer, with Come Escape With Me being her fifth release in seven years. Not only does it demonstrate the disturbing power of packaging, and that sometimes one should try to see past blatant marketing attempts, but it also shows how musical boundaries are really mere artifice, imposed by narrow-minded folk who prefer to compartmentalize their music. While Figarova and her group reside in Holland, with the music on Come Escape With Me there's no doubt that Figarova's tastes lean completely towards what many like to identify as the "American jazz tradition.
From the first track, the modal title piece, Figarova's music jumps out with the kind of energy that is rooted in '60s McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. That she was a precocious child prodigy, who was playing piano and composing by the age of three and graduated from the Baku Conservatory in '87 as a classical pianist, makes her transition to the more liberated improvisational context of jazz in the past fifteen years all the more impressive. She may have only begun to study jazz in the early '90s, but she's already absorbed more in that short time than some artists do in a lifetime.
Figarova and her septet of Dutch musicians swing hard on "Blues for Wiro, cop an Eddie Harris groove on "Hot on the Trail, relax into the delicate ballad "Flight of Fancy, and explore Latin territory on "Zealot. With a front line of two saxophones and trumpet, and husband Bart Platteau on various flutes further enriching the mix, Figarova works with a broad-hued palette. Clever arrangements, where Figarova is able to put knowledge of instrument interaction gained through her classical studies to work, lend her compositions an air of refinement and form, but never sacrifice the all-important elements of intuition and the kind of chemistry that comes from her septet having been together for five years. Drummer Chris Strik is especially noteworthy, with an open mind and even more open ears.
For those who think that Europeans can't swing, there's plenty of proof to the contrary, with Come Escape With Me being as good an example as they come. Clearly Figarova, as strong a writer as she is a player, is someone to watch.