Pianist/Composer Amina Figarova’s new recording "Come Escape With Me" is another welcome step in this artist’s positive direction. Ms. Figarova is equal parts writer and player and very adept in both roles. She’s based in one of the more fertile "non-American" jazz epicenters, The Netherlands, giving her a different perspective through which to filter her jazz concepts. The results are nonetheless very straight-ahead, accessible, and enjoyable. The new record features her septet which has been together for five years and has two previous recordings. Comprised of a rhythm section, trumpet, two saxophonists, and a jazz flute player (he’s no Ron Burgundy!), the group has the feel of a ‘little big band.’ Ms. Figarova responded to some questions I had about her new record and ideas about music.
JazzReview: The new recording "Come Escape with Me" is with the septet that you’ve played and recorded with for some time now (their 3rd record). Where and when did you meet and start playing with the members of this group?
Amina Figarova: With some members of this band I played before the septet started, but the actual septet was born in 1999.
JazzReview: How long did the recording sessions take for "Come Escape with Me?"
Amina Figarova: The recording session for all of the septet CDs are always short. "Come Escape with Me" we recorded in two days. Actually, this time we were recording two albums, and the two albums we did in three and a half days. The reason why all the recording sessions are so short is because I like to perform in the studio, very much like a life situation. Not all music is known for the band far in advance. Some things we play maybe a while, and some compositions I will just bring in the studio. But I don’t worry because the guys can play in a moment’s notice, sometimes great out of very new music.
JazzReview: The way you’ve voiced and arranged many of your compositions gives the music a "little big band" flavor. Is this intentional or due to circumstance and personal style?
Amina Figarova: Eight years ago I went to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Camp in Aspen Colorado, and one of the projects was playing with the big band. I have always loved big bands: the power, color, variety, energy. But the role of the piano player in the big band, anyway to me, is not the most exciting. So that’s when I decided to put the band together to create as you have told, "a little big band," and at the same time, to create a enough space for every musician of the band and for myself. It was intentional, although I was very aware of that when I was writing for the first septet album. Now the septet, to me, it’s a high energy band with incredible dynamics.
JazzReview: Do you plan on composing and recording with a traditional big band? It sounds like you’ve got a knack for it.
Amina Figarova: I would love to write for a big band. I think writing for a big band is very challenging and inspirational.
JazzReview: What was your experience like at Berklee College of Music and how did being in the United States affect your outlook on jazz, if at all?
Amina Figarova: Berklee College of Music and just being in the U.S. was a very important time in my life. It would be hard to explain for me in a couple of words, but it was an incredible eye opening, challenge, and also a confirmation and amazing inspiration. I’ve met most wonderful musicians as teachers and students. I received fantastic lessons, seen lots of wonderful concerts, and of course, jammed ‘til the dawn.
JazzReview: Who are some of your main musical influences for both playing and writing?
Amina Figarova: The musical influences changed with [various] periods in my life and it’s not only jazz musicians. It’s can go from Bach to Rachmaninoff , Debussy to Schedrin, McCoy Tyner to Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Stevie Wonder, Michel Petruccianni, Ivan Lins, Sting, and lots of Cuban musicians. This list can go on and on.
JazzReview: The Interludes on your previous recording "Night Train" show your strength for solo piano playing, as well as highlighting some of your classical background (contrapuntal ideas, etc.). Do you give many solo recitals and how important to you is this aspect of your playing?
Amina Figarova: The interludes came actually by accident on the CD. I was simply messing around [with] the theme of the Night Train, and the sound engineer recorded it. When I listed back to it, I thought it would be a nice idea to put this interlude, as a train stops, between the pieces. I use to play a lot of solo recitals, but the past few years, unfortunately, I have very little time for it.
JazzReview: Do you expect to do any extended touring in the U.S. with your septet in the near future?
Amina Figarova: Near future? I don’t know yet, we are working on it now.
JazzReview: Thanks for taking time to talk with us about your music. Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers before you go?
Amina Figarova: I would like thank the extended jazz family readers for helping to keep our music alive.
John Dworkin is a freelance writer/musician living in the New York City area. You can find other interviews and reviews by Dworkin here at JazzReview - and you can hear his original recording Short Story at www.cdbaby.com/dworkin