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Ladies From Afar

Nick Catalano By

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This month we celebrate the ever-increasing expansion of jazz overseas, particularly two foreign women who, for different reasons, have captured the jazz spirit: Roberta Gambarini from Torino, Italy and Amina Figarova from Baku, Aserbaijan.

Gambarini arrived in New York not long ago and immediately jumped into the Gotham jazz scene, sharing the stage with superstars. Legendary pianist Hank Jones, who appears on her recent CD You Are There (Groovin' High/Emarcy records, 2007), raised many eyebrows when he dubbed her "the best singer to emerge in over 60 years." The Boston Globe followed up by declaring her "the true successor to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae." I first saw her on stage at a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert performing with Wynton Marsalis and the band. She was introduced by James Moody (also appearing on her new CD, So in Love, 2009), one of her earliest supporters. Her talents have been conspicuously cited by leading American musicians (as well as critics), a sure sign of something special.

Gambarini's clear articulation in often difficult intervallic leaps is one strong point. She demonstrates this ability on Michel LeGrand's "You Must Believe in Spring" on the So in Love. She has a history of hard swinging, as attested by her triumphant appearances with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band, and draws upon this background on the late Johnny Griffin's "You Ain't Nothing But a JAMF," for which she wrote the lyrics. Her future is bright indeed.

Pianist/composer Amina Figarova has been lauded as "among the most important composers to come into jazz in the new millennium" (JazzTimes) and as a pianist with "a graceful and erudite style (All About Jazz). In her youth she attended the Baku conservatory and performed the challenging repertoires of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin but continually listened to her parents' records of Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass. She made her recording debut in 1994 with Attraction and was accepted into the Thelonious Monk Jazz Colony in Aspen, Colorado. She has been touring internationally ever since.

Figarova's most recent CD Above the Clouds (Munich Records, 2008) is a highly accessible affair sporting a group of little-known but highly-talented international jazzers. She is presently based in Rotterdam, and the CD session in Amsterdam celebrates the 400-year anniversary of Dutch explorer Henry Hudson's discovery of Gotham's famous river. The CD contains an intriguing composition (all cuts are composed by Figarova) dubbed "River of Mountains," dedicated to Hudson's discovery.


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