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Kevin Figes et al, et al, et al… Lantern, April 10

April 12, 2016

“We’ve got an enormous amount of music to get through this evening” said Kevin Figes, kicking off a packed evening celebrating his label Pig Records. He wasn’t kidding, and you forgave him for checking his watch throughout – hiring Colston Hall’s Lantern doesn’t come cheap.

So we had a brief, beguiling set from Cathy Jones‘ Balanca, a quartet on this occasion with Figes, Tristram Cox on guitar and Mark Whitlam on drums, warming us up with a couple of bossa nova tunes, some Hermeto Pascoal and, intriguingly, a Stevie Wonder song. Then came a raggedly raucous, percussion heavy Afro-latin brew from Simon Presto with 13 (I think) people on stage for two numbers. They made way for Jim Blomfield‘s trio, Whitlam again on drums and Roshan Wijetunge on bass. They had time for four numbers too, with Blomfield incandescent from the off, and having fun with some electronics in mid-set. This outfit really delivers – I’d been listening to a lot of Michael Wollny’s feted piano trio over the weekend, and they work together just as convincingly. None of the four pieces, incidentally, was on Blomfield’s Pig CD release, so maybe there’ll be another recording soon?

That somewhat breathless first half left time for just two bands after the interval – both led by Figes. First up was his quartet, with Riaan Vosloo on bass and Blomfield and Whitlam returning to the stage. They were launching Figes’ third quartet CD, but it’s a quartet that keeps growing…  The first number, Weather Warning, had a Dolphyesque theme and a slightly menacing feel, maintained by guest Nick Malcolm‘s trumpet solo and some crunchy electronic keyboard sounds. Fall Apart saw Blomfield conjuring gamelan tones from his keyboard, then came Birdsong, making delightful use of wordless vocals from Cathy Jones and Emily Wright. Incorporating natural avian lines has appealed to lots of musicians – from Messiaen to  author and jazz player David Rothenberg – but this piece is a worthy edition to the trans-species canon.

I was beginning to lose track of personnel by now – it was more fun listening to the music. But the final line-up was an octet to note because it has an intriguing formation: the two vocalists used alongside the horns, Figes and Nick Dover on saxes, and two drummers – Whitlam joined by Lloyd Haines – with Jeff Spencer coming in on electric bass. That needs some careful sound balancing, but the result is brilliantly effective. The twinned percussion creates a driving urgency hard to achieve any other way, while the two flawlessly accurate voices blend with the reeds and give the arrangements a fetching harmonic glow. There’s another CD’s worth of this ensemble’s work now on offer as well. It would have been good to hear more from them on the night, but MC Figes called time at 2 minutes to eleven. The crowd enjoying the Necks’ explorations of Colston Hall’s organ in the big hall had already dispersed, and it was time to clear the building. Still, a fascinatingly varied display of Pig Records’s wares, of Bristol jazz talent and, especially, of a medium-sized ensemble who I hope get the chance to play live somewhere in Bristol for a full evening soon.

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