Wallpaper Music is an exceptional album, full of engaging compositions and stunning musical arrangements and playing, put together by the very talented Kevin Figes, and a group of fine musicians.
Release date: Available now
Label: Pig Records
Formats: Digital / CD
Kevin Figes is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, educator, and bandleader of various ensembles, as well as founding Pig Records in 2010. A truly renaissance artist in the jazz world. His musical instincts also take in a wide range of musical influences alongside jazz, as is particularly evident on this excellent album.
The Wallpaper Music album was recorded in the iconic Rockfield Studies in Monmouth, Wales. Kevin Figes has described the inspiration for the album, as including the musical collective Henry Cow, and contemporary classical music. If you don’t know the work of Henry Cow, they were an experimental musical collective from the late 1960s to late 1970s, who brought together a range of innovative musical approaches, drawing on rock and jazz through to classical music. They developed their music under a banner of improvisation, and constantly challenging themselves through both complex musical frameworks, and more traditional song structures. They were also influenced by left-wing ideas and were pioneers of seeking a path of independence from the music industry. A suggested listening starting point, if you want to follow up their music, might be their second album, Unrest.
The musicians on Wallpaper Music are: Kevin Figes (saxes, flutes, voice and compositions); Brigitte Beraha (voice); Jim Blomfield (keyboards); Ashley John Long (bass); and Mark Whitlam (percussion). Opening track, the epic thirteen minute plus More Equal Than Others, perhaps most closely evidences the Henry Cow inspiration. Brigitte Beraha’s vocals have both a resonance of Dagmar Krause’s superb phrasing, while also offering her own striking soaring quality.
The different musical sections within the track offer some fabulous contrasts. Jim Blomfield’s atmospheric staccato piano phrases literally hang in the air, as they accompany Brigitte Beraha’s improvised vocals. A mid-point section has Kevin Figes’ elegant flute playing gracefully carried by the gentle splashing rhythm, creating a sound not unlike the great Hatfield and the North, from the 1970s Canterbury scene.
Later sections see rapid time signature changes, and strident ensemble playing, leading into the concluding section, where Kevin Figes’ vibrant sax solo underlines the dystopian nightmare described by the lyrics. The intriguing lyrics seem to major on the theme of political allegory, raising echoes of The Who’s, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm. A simply marvellous opening to the album.
Fear of Failure parts [A] and [B] which bookend the track, Alt.View, offer some quite beautiful piano and woodwind melodies. They gently support Brigitte Beraha’s voice to engagingly set out in the lyrics, the dilemma of acceptance versus questioning and activism, her voice conveying the journey from pessimism to optimism across the two musical pieces.
Which brings us onto, Alt.View, which is one of the absolute musical highlights on the album. Ashley John Long’s bass, and Mark Whitlam’s drumming, offer some finely executed flowing rhythms, that take the music to new heights, with Mark’s precision cymbal accents jumping out of the mix. Kevin Figes saxophone playing has a remarkable lyrical tone, that emanates a storytelling quality. While Jim Blomfield’s magical and atmospheric organ solo, put this reviewer in mind of the great and sadly missed Phil Ryan’s playing, in Welsh legends Man, and also the Neutrons. I can’t think of any higher praise.
The final track, Song; Meaning, following Kevin Figes solo saxophone introduction, has some quirky electronics, that set up a stunning interplay between voice, percussion, saxophone/flute, and keyboards, where the band’s chosen idiom, witnesses some breathtaking exchanges of impetuous and discordant musical phrases. The accompanying words speak of living dreams in the here and now. A musical reference point here is King Crimson’s Moonchild track, from the In the Court of the Crimson King album. This is a stunning conclusion to a great album.
If you seek out this album you will be well rewarded by a piece of music that reveals new layers on every listen and exudes musical ambition and challenge.
You can view the promotional film for the Wallpaper Music album here: