Pianist Amina Figarova, born in Baku, Azerbaijin, experienced one of the United States' darkest daysthe 9/11/2001 terrorist attackup close, from the vantage point of a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. The experience resulted in the creation of perhaps the most poignant and heartfelt artistic representations of the event, Figarova's sextet recording September Suite (Munich Records, 2005), an "Ode To Mourning" of sorts for America.
Figarova has stayed busy since then, releasing Above The Clouds (Munich Music, 2008), Twelve (In + Out Records, 2012), and Blue Whisper (In + Out Records, 2016), recordings on which she shows a consistent genius for composing and arranging for her ensemble. Additionally, she and her band have toured, constantly.
With Road to The Sun the pianist has expanded her sound on five of the disc's eleven compositions with the addition of stringsa violin, a viola and a cello. Figarova's music alwaysand especially here with the string playersdisplays a cerebral feeling, a refinement and sophistication drawn from her early classical studies. But it also veers into soulful, up-from-the-gut moments, especially in her use of saxophonists Marc Mommaas and Wayne Escoffery, who appear on alternating cuts.
The deft and beautiful employment of strings begins with the title tune/opener, full of tempo shifts and intricate chartsthe cool sweetness of Bart Platteau's flute giving way to the sting of Alex Pope Norris' trumpet. Solos lean toward concise sideimprovisational perfection in small doseswith splendid integration into the whole.
"All We Dance," a ballad with a gently surging rhythm, slips into one of Figarova's gorgeous, serpentine piano solos. It is tune that sounds as if it could be converted to a vehicle for an orchestrathough topping the rich beauty of this sextet-with-strings (with an additional percussionist) effort would be difficult.
"Snow Mess" is one of the "jazzier," more Art Blakey-esque moments, during its first two minutes. Then the band shifts tempo and lets saxophonist Escoffery lay down an anguished, time-stands-still lament, before the band cranks things up into a high energy mode again.
Road To The Sun competes with September Suite as Amina Figarova's finest recording. Her incorporation of strings into her sound is brilliant. Those year-end polls that put the spotlight on Best Arrangers are usually reserved for writers of the larger ensembles. Figaravo, writing for her sextet plus three, should be given that consideration.
Road To The Sun; All We Dance; Snow Mess; Explorations; Tumbling Prisms; Morning Mist; Fall Eclipse; On My Way; Cool Breeze; Circles; No Time For.