With poised, clever playing, pianist and composer Amina Figarova delivers on Sketches. The record is a beautiful mingling of her talents, fleshed out through a blend of inviting grooving and ornate runs. Figarova’s compositions, too, carry the same magnanimous weight.
Sketches is designed to provide listeners with “musical sketches” of Figarova’s travels and experiences. It surely accomplishes the goal, smartly painting images with flourishes of piano and subtle touches from her international sextet. The musical congruity here is hard to deny, as every track springs with vibrancy and colour.
Figarova’s ensemble is co-led by her husband, flutist Bart Platteau. Also along for the ride are trumpeter Ernie Hammes, tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas, bassist Jeroen Vierdag, and drummer Chris Strik. The ensemble clearly has played together through various globetrotting adventures, as their interactions are immaculate.
Sketches opens with “Four Steps To…,” an appealing number that opens with Figarova’s tantalizing playing. She builds with mesmeric piano, resolutely guiding the rest of the players into the piece with refined confidence and poise. Hammes enters like the rising sun peeking over the horizon looking for a place to shine its warm light.
There’s a lot of Maria Schneider to be hard in Amina Figarova’s lush ensemble pieces. Figarova’s scope embodies the broad magnificence of a Schneider arrangement and can be especially heard on some of her more determined pieces. The visually exciting “Breakfast for the Elephant” serves as an example, with Figarova’s playing setting the stage for the warm glow of instrumental ecstasy.
Figarova was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and enjoyed her parents’ records of Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass as a child. The influences stuck and she took to the piano at age two. She was studying 19th century European composition by age six and has since recorded music from the likes of Scriabin and Rachmaninoff.
Those classic chops shine through on Sketches, as Figarova’s vision for the world provokes a broad genre-busting sense of things. She is an exciting and an excited composer, clearly demonstrating her affection for living on tracks like “Happy Hour” and the buoyant and funky “On the Road.”
Listening to Sketches is like looking through the travel photos of someone who loves to live and laugh. Figarova’s vitality is present even in the record’s smaller moments and her energy is infectious. Through her playing and her compositions she offers insight and experience, proving that living and working without borders is the only pure way to exist.
Article originally published as I Hear Sparks: Amina Figarova – Sketches at Blogcritics.org