Jazzy sextet comes to Whitehorse

Jazz pianist and composer Amina Figarova calls the music she creates an "audio movie." Think of it as a film without the visuals. "Everything is an inspiration, everything has a sound or rhythm," she said.

Jazz pianist and composer Amina Figarova calls the music she creates an “audio movie.” Think of it as a film without the visuals.

“Everything is an inspiration, everything has a sound or rhythm,” she said.

After decades of working with essentially the same musicians, Figarova has a well-established cast of characters to play with, all talented musicians in their own right.

The Amina Figarova Sextet will be playing on Sunday at the Yukon Arts Centre, as part of Jazz Yukon’s Jazz on the Wing series.

“To me writing music, since I was a child, was basically a way of communicating. If I’ve seen something interesting I write about it,” Figarova said on the phone from Brussels this week.

“Even in a child-like, play-like way, I would just play a melody and talk about what I’ve seen. It’s kind of remained the same for me, only now I do it professionally.”

Figarova was born and raised in Baku, Azerbaijan. Her 12th album, appropriately titled “Twelve,” was inspired by her move three years ago from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, to Forest Hills, Queens, New York.

Some pieces touch on the frantic nature of living in a big city, while others examine the more quiet moments alone.

In a review of the album, the New York City Jazz Record called the recording “one that showcases one of jazz’s very best working bands.”

In the jazz world, long-running bands with the same cast of musicians are the exception rather than the rule. The core of this band has been together for about 20 years.

Jazz Yukon president Duncan Sinclair says that cohesiveness is what gives them their unique, identifiable sound.

“It’s a working band. She knows who she’s composing for, and that kind of intimacy is something the audience can feel,” he said.

The makeup of the band also contributes to the unique sound, Sinclair said. Along with the standard horns and trumpets found in many jazz ensembles, the Figarova sextet includes a flute played by Figarova’s husband, Bart Platteau.

“It’s almost an orchestra in a way, with six people,” Sinclair said. “The possibilities are incredible.”

When she composes and when she plays, Figarova said she’s always working on being a bridge between the audience and the band, so that everyone can feel the world she has created in her mind.

“Audience becomes part of the world I’m talking about.”

The Whitehorse audience will get a particularly up-close-and-personal experience. The show is being staged cabaret-style, meaning the tiny audience of 125 people is right on the stage with the musicians.

Figarova was last in Whitehorse for three days in 2008.

She said she’s been trying to find a way to come back ever since.

“Lots of people live there because they choose to live there. The whole atmosphere is so special. I often talk about this, and I tell people the world in Whitehorse is almost perfect to me. The atmosphere, this is how the world’s supposed to be.”

Her experience in the North was inspirational enough that she plans on playing a special piece at the Whitehorse show.

“There is a place in Whitehorse, and I’m not going to tell you what place, that became the title of one of my pieces. I just want to keep that a surprise,” she said.

Jazz Yukon was officially incorporated in 1991. The Jazz on the Wing series started in 1994.

Since then it has grown to an organization that put on 25 shows last year.

Sinclair said they have worked to make the Yukon a go-to destination for musicians.

Figarova’s visit this time is only for a day and a half, but in 2008 she was able to spend three days in Whitehorse and experience the jazz scene that is growing here.

“I remember giving a composition workshop. I was absolutely amazed, although they were amateur students, by the quality of composers at a very high level,” she said.

While the idea of a jazz concert may be foreign to some, it often only takes one experience to make a difference, Sinclair said.

“We’ve got a lot of people converting.”

The Amina Figarova Sextet show is happening at the Yukon Arts Centre Sunday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for seniors, $15 for teens and $5 for children.

For more information visit: www.jazzyukon.ca.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com