Pig Out: Kevin Figes, Tables and Chairs; Cathy Jones, Balanca; Jim Blomfield, Wave Forms and Sea Changes
Tables and Chairs reviews
Jazzwise Magazine Review May 2013
Bristol-based saxman Kevin Figes is the archetypal late starter: he was in his twenties before he really discovered jazz (Charlie Mariano’s contributions on Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus were a major revelation) and got motivated to pick up a horn. Elton Dean then gave him some coaching; now, two decades on and several albums into his career, Figes is the real deal. His current quartet features a fluidly funky backline in the shape of Will Harris and Mark Whitlam, who can put some heat under a tune: the pulsating final section of ‘Here you are’ wouldn’t sound out of place playing behind a chase sequence in a silent movie. Jim Blomfield adds great colour, especially on Rhodes: he doesn’t waste the opportunity to lay out his wares on piano on ‘Last Outpost’ either. Figes himself is a fine shaper of lines and blows with gritty romantic gusto. For the all-original material here, the leader cites influences including David Binney and Hermeto Pascoal: there’s also a hint of old tutor Dean and Soft Machine in the jazz-rock rhetorical underpinnings of ‘New Clothes’.
Jazz Views Review
Free –Bop, Soul –Bop, Hard –Bop , Rock and Latino rhythms plus a couple of extended shape shifters; you get the lot on this lively, resourceful set from Kevin Figes and his talented crew. In their accomplished hands the various components of contemporary jazz are assembled with acuity and an intelligent understanding of the traditions from which they emerge making for an impressive example of jazz craftsmen at work. All compositional credits go to Figes who, as already noted, has put together a varied programme of catchy, optimistic themes and slinky, modal meditations combining deft, exploratory twists and turns with carefully grafted in retro touches. This is particularly evident in the last track, ‘Hability’ where he takes up his baritone and blows a testosterone fuelled line reminiscent of Pepper Adams. On alto he inhabits similar territory to David Binney, clear toned and articulate, astutely avoiding cliché driven solutions and displaying every bit as much virtuosity as the American. Of his companions drummer Whitlam adroitly executes all the rhythmic formulae with precision and panache whilst Will Harris on bass fulfils all his contractual obligations to the letter . On keyboards Jim Blomfield moves between acoustic piano and fender rhodes as appropriate and there is no doubt that on the funkier tracks the electric instrument is the best choice and doesn’t sound the least bit dated. Elsewhere his impressive technique equips him to move between pellucid linearity and harmonic opulence that lends momentum and adds dimension in equal measure. As far as this recital goes Blomfield is much more than accompanist/sideman , deserving star billing for his exemplary contribution. In summary this an extremely likeable recording and to say that is not to damn it with faint praise but to recognise that not every musical enterprise has to aim for genre busting significance to be considered worthwhile. Tables and Chairs is an eminently collectable example of first class British contemporary jazz and those who are fortunate enough to catch the quartet on their up-coming tour will certainly want to leave the gig with a copy.
For his fourth album as leader, saxophonist/composer Kevin Figes has again surrounded himself with musicians sympathetic to – and skilled in interpretation of – his musical world, which consists chiefly of straightahead contemporary jazz (jaunty pieces with the occasional tricksy time signature) interspersed with flashes of drum and bass, free improvisation and tasteful funk.
Long-time collaborator Jim Blomfield (piano), bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam bring a pleasingly informal live-in-the-studio feel to Figes’s pieces, their default setting an attractive breeziness well suited to the leader’s tumbling alto style, but the band is also capable of grittier playing (especially when Blomfield switches to Fender Rhodes), and even the perkiest numbers are likely to contain passages where airiness alternates with funky shuffling (‘Scrap Board’) or fleet double-time passages (‘Here You Are’).
An intelligently varied set also includes a dreamy ballad (‘For Becky’), a slightly more adventurous, multi-textured piece (‘Last Outpost’), and a baritone feature (‘Hability’), and overall, Tables and Chairs is a worthy successor to Figes’s work with the likes of Riaan Vosloo and Tim Giles and his more recent band, 4-Sided Triangle
This is Bristol Review
Kevin Figes can be something of a musical enigma. For many years one of the most interesting local jazz saxophonists, the last few years have seen him mature as a composer, too, both for the Resonation Big Band and his own quartet. He has a deep association with Latin music – particularly his cutting Brazilianstyle flute – but has an equal interest in free jazz, playing with spontaneitymeister Keith Tippett among others. His recorded music has usually been characterised by a self-imposed restraint, however, that never quite reflected the restless energy of his alto and baritone sax playing. Which is why the new Kevin Figes Quartet CD Tables and Chairs is such good news – a collection of diverse tunes whose interestingly complex structures seem to finally liberate the fuller range of Figes’ sax styles. He’s well-helped by regular collaborators Jim Blomfield (piano), Will Harris (bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums). It’s a great album that reflects a confident player stretching out at last.
Jazz Mann Review
This is a very exciting band and their new album is a good candidate for Figes’ best yet.
Bristol based saxophonist, flautist and composer Kevin Figes is a versatile musician who appears in a number of different bands across a variety of jazz genres. I’ve seen him perform with the Resonations Big Band, the Dave Stapleton Quintet and as a leader of his own groups.
Figes concentrates on saxophone as a leader of his own bands, mainly playing alto but also sometimes performing on baritone. His latest quartet release is his fourth album as a leader following two previous quartet recordings “Circular Motion” (Edition Records 2008) and “Hometime” (2010), the first release on Figes’ own Pig Records imprint. These albums featured Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield plus the London rhythm team of Riaan Vosloo (double bass) and Tim Giles (drums). Those records explored broadly post bop territory but Figes has also recorded with the more funk and fusion orientated 4 Sided triangle featuring Mike Outram on guitar, Dan Moore on Fender Rhodes and sometime Get The Blessing member Daisy Palmer at the drums. This group’s eponymous début was released on Pig Records in 2012.
For his latest offering Figes has returned to the classic quartet configuration, retaining the services of Blomfield and bringing in an all new West Country based rhythm pairing of Will Harris on double bass and Mark Whitlam, recently seen and heard with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, at the drums. The quartet are currently on a Jazz Services supported UK tour and I was lucky enough to catch the first night at the Queens Head in Monmouth. On the evidence of their performance there I’d urge anyone reading this to get out and see them if you can, this is a very exciting band and their new album is a good candidate for Figes’ best yet.
Figes’ inspirations include Ornette Coleman (“Clutter” from “Circular Motion” which served as the encore at Monmouth gave evidence of that) but recently he’s also fallen under the spell of more contemporary altoists such as David Binney. It was the Binney influence that struck me when I first heard “Tables And Chairs” and it seemed to me that although this record may have been recorded in Penarth, South Wales it still had something of a New York vibe to it.
Figes’ eight original compositions cover a lot of ground with the opening title track’s clipped alto phrasing and the hip hop influenced bass and drum grooves immediately expressing something of that New York/Binney influence. Harris’ sturdy bass is at the heart of the piece which includes a fluent but urgent solo from Figes with Blomfield following on Rhodes.
“Here You Are” is a two part composition, initially an abstract ballad that begins with just bass and alto before expanding to bring in the whole band. It may be gentler and less frenetic but there’s still an element of “edge”. Solos come from Figes on alto and Blomfield at the piano, the latter particularly flowing and lyrical. Blomfield is a fluent and adventurous soloist and at Monmouth he frequently threatened to upstage the leader despite being confined to just the Rhodes.
The second half of “Here You Are” is a return to the energetic feel of the title track. Blomfield’s insistent piano vamp is the catalyst for features from Whitlam and Figes. “Scrap Board” begins in breezy Latin inflected fashion before Harris’ powerful bass motif re-establishes something of that New York vibe. The prevailing mood alternates throughout the track and along the way there’s some inspired soloing from Figes and Bloomfield plus an engaging feature for Harris who enters into dialogue with his drum partner above the backdrop of Blomfield’s sparse piano chording. “New Clothes” is another excellent example of the quartet’s energetic Binney inspired post bop. Propelled by an urgent bass and drum groove the piece features a series of exciting alto/Rhodes exchanges which hot up increasingly as the track progresses. The piece is climaxed by a drum feature from Whitlam above Figes’ repeated saxophone phrases. “For Becky” is an unashamedly beautiful ballad with Figes adopting a softer tone on the alto and with gently lyrical solos from Harris at the bass and Blomfield at the piano and Figes himself with Whitlam adding discreet and sympathetic support. “Fortunately Unfortunately” opened the Monmouth show and adopts a funk/fusion groove as Figes takes elements of 70’s/80’s smooth jazz and updates them in a contemporary jazz setting that frames excellent solos from himself and Blomfield. “Last Outpost” begins atmospherically with the gentle probing of Fige’s alto but metamorphoses into a Blomfield piano feature, a lengthy unaccompanied passage embracing minimalist ideas and a gentle dissonance. Later there’s an extended dialogue between Blomfield and Figes before the saxophonist plays us out, soloing anthemically and at length with full band accompaniment before a gentle alto/piano coda.
For the final item “Hability” Figes unleashes his baritone to solo with power and an admirable fluency on a funk flavoured offering that also offers outings for Harris on bass,the impressive Blomfield on Rhodes plus a final feature from Whitlam.
“Tables And Chairs” is an highly accomplished album of contemporary jazz with strong melodic themes and plenty of bright rhythmic ideas. Although conspicuously influenced by American models (plus Brazilian composer and multi instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal) it’s a convincing piece of work in its own right covering a variety of jazz bases and with excellent contributions from all four protagonists. Figes and Blomfield are frequently inspired soloists and Harris and Whitlam are a flexible and adaptable pairing more than capable of handling the often complex rhythmic challenges Figes throws their way. What’s more they can swing and groove when required too. As mentioned previously the band are currently out on the road touring this material. I thoroughly enjoyed their show at Monmouth and you can catch them at the following venues;
4Sided Triangle reviews
Kevin Figes Quartet reviews
KFQ and other printed reviews