It used to be, all good jazz originated out of New Orleans, then Chicago, then New York. And a lot of it still does these days. Eventually, Western Europe became the place of origin for a lot of great jazz for several generations, now, and even Eastern Europe is the home of some mighty good jazz performers, a few of whom have been profiled here. But nowadays, you can find good jazz from the Caucasus region where Europe meets the Middle East part of Asia. Exhibit A for my case is the Azerbaijan born and raised Amina Figarova.
Having grown up in the Soviet era, Figarova learned classical piano at the Baku Conservatory, but switched her studies to jazz when attending the Rotterdam Conservatory and finished up at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She furthered he education at the Thelonius Monk Jazz Colony in Aspen, Colorado, and has toured and performed with the likes of James Moody, Larry Coryell, Toots Thielemans and Claudio Roditi. Her husband is flautist Bart Platteau, with whom she has an extensive working relationship as well.
Figarova boasts about nine or ten albums to her name, starting with 1994's Attraction. A couple of weeks ago on August 10, she released her latest, Sketches. A program of all originals, Sketches's thirteen songs explores mainstream jazz in a sextet configuration using musicians from and around her adopted country of the Netherlands. It's a similar game plan as her last few records, and since it works, she fittingly sees no reason to mess with that formula.
This set reminds me a bit of Speak Like A Child era Herbie Hancock. Like Hancock, Figarova uses her classical background to blend stately horn arrangements with the light swing of post-bop jazz. It's a little lighter and nimbler and incorporates more improvisation, however. Four Steps To...," Sketches" and Your Room" demonstrates how this approach adds a healthy does of mood, while Marc Mommaas' lissome and emotional tenor sax produces the fire in each of these songs. Unacceptable" shows off a little of Figarova's avant-garde side that reveals how complex her composing can get. Caribou Crossing" is a showcase for both Figarova's unforced style on piano and Platteau's flute acumen that makes one think of James Spaulding's excellent supporting work on classic Blue Note records of the 60s.
Flight No" as a whole replicates that Blue Note feel, especially with Ernie Hammes' trumpet recalling Freddie Hubbard's peak form from that time. Chris Buckshot" Strik's jungle rhythms that begin and end the song spices it up even further. The start-stop nature of Whotsot" makes the song pop without losing any momentum. Back In New Orleans" isn't some second-line beat tune, but a slow, modal piece that is lean, loose and contains a brief but nice solo for bassist Jeroen Vierdag (who integrates his bass into Figarova's harmonic lines rather well all throughout the album). Happy Hour" mixes a busy, tough groove with a Brazilian vibe enhanced nicely by Platteau's flute.
There isn't a weak track in this assortment of compositions, because Figarova approaches as composition as its own entity, finding the best arrangements that work for each song, accentuating the melodic flow and getting the other players deeply involved in making them work. Pianist, composer, bandleader, Amina Figarova is the complete package.
Yes indeed, there's good jazz rooted in Azerbaijan.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.