Album review

Kevin Figes – ‘Wallpaper Music’

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 organized 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 realized 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.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

LINKS: Album Interview by John Fordham

Wallpaper Music on Bandcamp

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