Amina Figarova is a serious pianist (she's recorded the works of Rachmaninov and Scriabin) and an equally serious jazz composer. When she writes for a small ensemble, a sextet on this album, the results tend to sound like a big band, which tells you something about her skills. Her work also tends to be somewhat programmatic, and that's especially true on Sketches. Tunes like "Train to Rotterdam" (with its lovely sideways chord progression and bustling rhythm), the impressionistic "Back in New Orleans," and the even more impressionistic title tune all seem designed to evoke visual images. Elsewhere, she dabbles in angular bebop (the excellent "Unacceptable"), Latin jazz ("Look at That"), and a cheerfully strutting brand of swing ("WHOTSOT") that seems to bring out her best as both a writer and a pianist. When she shoots for contemplative beauty she sometimes hits it square: "Four Steps to…" opens the album on a note of simple, straightforward melodic loveliness, and "Flight No. 6" is built on a gorgeously light and lilting melody (played brilliantly by flutist Bart Platteau). But sometimes her panoramic impulse gives way to aimless noodling: "Your Room" and "Sketches" are both quite pretty, but seem like they want to get up and move somewhere but can't quite get up the gumption. Overall, this is another very impressive album from one of modern jazz's most impressive bandleaders.
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson