Kevin Figes: Wallpaper Music II 

British woodwind man recalls Matching Mole, Henry Cow, Egg, Hatfield And The North, National Health and Frank Zappa


Kevin Figes seems to have picked-up the baton of late 1960s, early 1970s early prog-jazz and run with it. As demonstrated on Wallpaper Music (Pig Records, 2021), his influences appear to have been drawn from the likes of Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole, Henry Cow, Egg, Hatfield And The North, National Health and even shades of Uncle Meat-era Frank Zappa. That’s not to say Figes’ music is derivative, which it most certainly is not.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the music on the follow-up Wallpaper Music II sounds like it does, given Figes’ musical history. In his early 20s he studied saxophone with Soft Machine’s Elton Dean, later attending the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama under the tutorship of Tim Garland. In the 1990s he moved to Bristol and joined Keith Tippett’s Seedbed Orchestra and his Tapestry big band. Figes also led and composed for the big band Ultrasound.

Notably, his musical debt to his heroes his been paid-off by the release of the EP Seven For Lee / Green And Orange Night Park (My Only Desire Records, 2023), the two compositions penned by Elton Dean and Keith Tippett respectively and superbly executed by Figes’ sextet. It’s an apposite selection considering Dean was also a member of Tippett’s first recording group.

This is the tenth full-length album released under Figes’ name since his debut Circular Motion (Edition, 2008) and offers the same level of intrigue and eccentric eclecticism as volume I. Check out the spoken conversational dialogue between Figes and Brigitte Beraha in the midst of Fear Of Fiasco. Figes’ echoey, dramatic sax permeates Dot Dash culminating in a Daevid Allen and Gong-like mêlée. Blank Out The Night features Figes’ decorous flute work and Patterns Of Decay is characterised by an eerie electronic soundscape. Beraha contributes vital lightness, contrasting with the general shade of the compositions, often channelling Barbara Gaskin and The Northettes.

Whilst Figes’ tunes have a continuous restless quality, they never lack originality, demanding the listener’s attention at all times. The funky final half minute of March Dance – possibly a subliminal paean to Tippett’s percussion-rich Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening (Vertigo, 1971) – furnishes the album’s ending with a surprising jolt to the ears.

Amethyst Stymied; Day’s Dawning; Dot Dash; Blank Out The Night; Tension; Patterns Of Decay; Sad Piano; The Time Has Come; Walk On; Fear Of Fiasco; Mock Turtle; Shame; March Dance (50.20)
Figes (ss, as, f, v); Brigitte Beraha (v); Jim Blomfield (kyb); Ashley John Long (b, elb); Mark Whitlam (d). Monmouth, 26-29 January 2023.
Pig Records PIG15