Amina Figarova: Twelve (2012)
Change is in the air that pianist/composer Amina Figarova is breathing. While the personnel from her previous outing is still intact, and her personal aesthetic remains largely unaltered, she comes to this album with a different worldview and a new place to call home. The Azerbaijan-born Figarova and husband/band mate/flautist Bart Platteau had been based in Rotterdam for quite some time, but decided to move stateside in 2010. This change of scenery served as the inspiration for the twelve-song suite that the pianist presents on this, her twelfth album to date, which also marks her arrival on the German In + Out label.
The three horns-plus-rhythm sextet that she settled on for Sketches (Munich, 2010) serves her well again, as the instruments and individuals involved help to provide lots of timbral possibilities, tonal colors and top-notch solos. The combination of flute, saxophone and trumpet makes for an alluring middleweight mixture that's capable of covering a broad sonic spectrum but avoids getting bogged down in bottom-end muddiness.
When playing together, the horns are capable of delivering choppy figures, gorgeous harmonies and interwoven lines that can melt the heart, but each musician really establishes themselves when they break from the pack. Saxophonist Marc Mommaas hits hard from the get-go, stealing the spotlight on "NYCST," but everybody gets to shine in this group at one time or another. Ernie Hammes' warm flugelhorn work comes into focus on "Another Side Of The Ocean," where he slips a "My Favorite Things" quote into his solo, and "Isabelle," where he comes across like a showier Ingrid Jensen; but he burns like a four-alarm fire when he picks up his trumpet for "On The Go." Platteau, not one to be outdone, matches Hammes' intensity when it's his turn to solo, but his flute work is usually far more profound in mellow environs.
While the energetic "On The Go" and "NYCST" prove to be album highlights and Figarova's piano work is a key part of both pieces, her composing and arranging skills are usually best viewed in calmer settings. The peaceable title track is a twinkling beauty, "Morning Pace" is stunning, and the gentle "Isabelle" is the album's high point. Her sensitivity, which is reflected in drummer Chris Strik's gentle brush stirs and bassist Jeroen Vierdag's quiet and measured soloing, is one of her best qualities, and she relies on this part of her persona frequently throughout this date.
Figarova's arrival in America marked the start of a new chapter in her life and Twelve is the first album to document her work as a full-fledged New Yorker. Judging from this album, it would seem that this city agrees with her.
Track Listing: NYCST; Another Side Of The Ocean; Sneaky Seagulls; Shut Eyes, Sea Waves,...; On The Go; Isabelle; Make It Happen; Twelve; New Birth; Morning Pace; Leila; Maria's Request.
Personnel: Amina Figarova: piano; Bart Platteau: flute, Bb flute d'amor; bass flute; ocarina; Ernie Hammes: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marc Mommaas: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jeroen Vierdag: bass; Chris "Buckshot" Strik: drums.