Wallpaper Music Reviews
Kevin Figes – Wallpaper Music
Pig Records, PIG11 (CD review by Mike Collins)
Wallpaper Music, released at the end of 2021, is a tour-de-force from multi-instrumentalist and composer Kevin Figes, conjuring a panoply of moods, sounds, and textures with eight original pieces. Listening is an exhilarating, swirling, never predictable ride.
Figes has assembled an ensemble of formidable composers and improvisers to create the music. The peerless Brigitte Beraha contributes vocals seasoned by wild imagination and creativity; the trio of Jim Blomfield on keyboards, Ashley John Long on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums are a remarkable unit, each with their own diverse projects behind them.
Ethereal tone poems, wonky pastoral passages, sudden twists and turns, unhinged and frenetic improv, crunching prog-rock vamps; just some of the elements Figes deploys in a finely balanced blend of detailed scripting, carefully organised structures and more spontaneous moments. There is however a clarity amidst the clamour, about the desired effect or mood.
More Equal Than Others, a reference to Orwell’s 1984, is a mini epic, starting with a zigzagging alto line, a melodically abstract lyric succeeded by free exchanges between wordless vocal gymnastics and Figes’ flute, textural instrumentals then evolving into a climactic rocky passage with fevered vocals and stentorian chanting. Danse Macabre whilst shorter, is a white knuckle ride, with a spiky vocal line and thumping pulse gradually unravelling into a full minute or more of aural mayhem, anguished screams and coruscating electronics jangling the nerves. Half Sunk, A Shattered Visage Lies sets parts of a Shelley poem, sinuous vocal lines float over atmospheric keyboards, and punctuated by tight driving passages with tense saxophone solos. Fear of Failure ‘A’ and ‘B’ feature delicately sung lyrics over austere piano chords. Alt. View arcs from abstract textures through grandiose rock vamps, a passage of intensifying sax solo, building to a thrilling organ solo over the ensemble in full flight, before finding its way back to the abstract textures.
The ever evolving compositions are brilliantly realised by this band. Beraha’s invention and interaction with Figes is a highlight and she negotiates the labyrinthine written lines effortlessly. Long, Whitlam and Blomfield are in some way the main event. They drive, colour and weave the shifting picture in sound through which Figes and Beraha move. The idiosyncratic world in which the listener is immersed may be Figes’ conception, but it’s a collective and exuberant act of creation.
Review from London Jazz News.
KEVIN FIGES – Wallpaper Music
Pig Records PIG11
Kevin Figes – alto sax, flute; Brigitte Beraha – vocals; Jim Blomfield – keyboards; Ashley John Long – bass; Mark Whitlam – percussion
The UK jazz scene underwent some fascinating mutations from the late 60s onwards as a new generation of players started to redraw the boundaries of the music. Freed from subservience to the declining bop idiom and rejecting the hegemonic influence of the USA (often from political as much as artistic motivations), they drew inspiration from such diverse sources as the homegrown prog rock scene and the European avante-garde to develop a sound that was very distinctive, if hard to categorise.
Kevin Figes was taught by Elton Dean, the Soft Machine saxophonist whose recorded legacy typifies the free-wheeling, no-boundaries approach of that generation, and this album reframes their unique sound for 2021. There are proggy, twisty unison passages, (as on opener ‘More Equal Than Others’), odd time signatures aplenty and some lovely textural work from Figes’ full-toned flute and Jim Blomfield’s array of vintage-sounding keyboards, and Figes’ writing for the well balanced band is constantly full of surprises. But the dominant voice throughout is Brigitte Beraha’s – deploying the full range of her formidable technique she goes from Art Bears or Henry Cow style pastoralism to Ivor Cutler whimsicality to free-improv squeals and whispers, often all in the same tune. There are echoes of Zappa in his 1960s Mothers period but the overall sound is very much from the British arm of the European progressive movement: this unique record is packed with character and imagination and effectively reframes a fascinating musical legacy for the 21st century.
Review from Jazz Views.
Kevin Figes Quartet: Changing Times review – constantly fascinating (The Guardian)
The multi-instrumentalist’s latest quartet recording is a mind-expanding feast for the ears.
I didn’t think I was going to like this album at first, when greeted by the strains of an electronic sequencer. But this faded into a beautifully played flute solo. Then came some wordless chanting by two mysterious voices, leading to a horror-movie climax. As one piece followed another, the flute returned, this time apparently in an underground cavern. There were saxophones – baritone, alto and soprano, all impressively well played, and atmospheres, rhythms and textures that were constantly changing. It was fascinating. Even the bits that I couldn’t make head nor tail of were clearly the work of superb musicians.
Kevin Figes, who played all the saxophones, the flute and was one of the singing voices, composed all eight pieces. His first teacher was Elton Dea, saxophonist with the Soft Machine, who no doubt influenced his open attitude to music in general. The band is completed by Jim Blomfield on keyboards, bassist Thad Kelly, drummer Mark Whitlam and singer Emily Wright. I’m still intrigued by this music, even though parts continue to pass me by. Anyway, it does you good to stretch the ears from time to time. – Dave Gelly (The Guardian)
Watch an album trailer for Changing Times
Jazzwise July 2020 review Changing Times
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;