What do “jazz” and “Azerbaijan” have in common? Both have a “z” in their names. And jazz pianist is from Azerbaijan. That’s probably about it. Azerbaijan produces about as many international jazz stars as Cuba produces downhill ski champions. But there are exceptions to every rule. Figarova brought her international sextet to the Mount Vernon Country Club Wednesday night and proved that top drawer jazz can come from unlikely places.
The sextet, which has been together for a few years now, hails predominately from Europe including the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Figarova explained that her home country is at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East which accounts for her wide ranging influences. The band had been based in Holland for several years, but moved to New York City in 2010. They are currently on a cross country tour learning, no doubt, just how big the United States is. The night before playing in the Denver area, they had played in St. Louis and driven from there the morning after their show. The day after the Colorado show, they were scheduled to play in Kansas City; driving back across the plains. (Who set up that schedule?)
The longevity of the band and the European background informed their playing. Figarova’s classical training was evident in both her playing and her compositions which comprised the entire program. Figarova’s husband, Bart Platteau played flute. He was joined in the front line by Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn and Marc Mommaas on tenor sax. Their extensive time together paid off not only in tight ensemble playing, starting and stopping and turning on a dime, but also in sweet, intricate harmonies that were a hallmark of the evening. Each played a number of state of the art solos emphasizing touching melodic lines for the most part and only occasionally laying down a blizzard of notes. Bassist Jerden Vierdag always seemed to be busy providing a low-end lyrical counterpoint to the proceedings up above. Drummer Chris “Buckshot” Strik constantly came up with a different way to play. He regularly switched from mallets to brushes to standard drums sticks. During his solo toward the end of the evening, he started out playing his trap set with his hands, sometimes pushing on a drum head with one hand to vary the pitch and hitting it with his other hand. He didn’t limit himself to hitting the drumheads and cymbals, but also used the edges, stands and sides of the drums to create an infinite variety of sounds.
As the leader, Figarova played a number of solos, not only with the band, but some entirely by herself. Here, again, the pyrotechnics were employed only sparingly. Her focus, too, stayed on the lyrical, graceful and poignant and sometimes ethereal and atmospheric. Her compositions are quite impressionistic for the most part. She explained that “NYCST” stood for New York City Subway Tango and the frenetic tune musically described the kind of scenes one might encounter on the subway around three in the morning. The band played a suite of three songs about the ocean; “Another Side of the Ocean,” “Sneaky Seagulls” and “Shut Eyes, Sea Waves.” Another tune described a favorite time of the week, “Morning Pace,” about a Sunday morning with nothing planned.
Almost all the songs for the evening were from the band’s latest album Twelve (In and Out Records, 2012). It is Figarova’s twelfth album, so the name seemed obvious. The release date was 2012, it has 12 songs and the title song is in 12/8 time complete the symmetry.