Bristol alto saxophonist Kevin Figes is one of the areas leading players (for me personally he's in the top two, frequently one) and is known for playing in a wide range of different outfits; from duos, to various mid-size groups, all the way to big bands. The absolute must-see Figes-featuring group though is his own outstanding quartet.
Caught live in the tight confines of the Bristol Fringe Bar on July 4th, the group excelled, but then with players of the likes of pianist Jim Blomfield, bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam, this would hardly ever come as a surprise. Playing a set of wholly original material, Figes led the group through works mainly from his latest (and best) album 'Tables And Chairs', as well as dipping into choice cuts from his earlier recordings. And they rocked.
Rocked may be an odd phrase to use, but frankly it fits. Bass and drums from the off had a more rock and funk feel to things, and they grooved hard, but all importantly left space aplenty for Figes and Blomfield to flavour proceedings with plenty of colour.
Blomfield is a clear and thoughtful improviser, who plays well with structure, and never strays or meanders, and demonstrates a skilled touch and soulfully funky feel whether tackling either the classic acoustic piano or the Fender Rhodes, or whatever other sounds he chooses to experiment with. His flourishes alone tonight in fact could easily have been the making of any group, taking care to showcase all sides of his musical personality; latin, funk, classically romantic, more avant-garde chromaticism...you name it, he played to its peak.
The main man though is where it counts, and as well as a top composer, Kevin Figes is both a superb player and an excellent bandleader. A master of several different sounds on his saxophone, he displayed a perfectly silky smooth tone on 'Here You Are', surely a highlight of the new album, and his composition 'Angel', for his daughter, is one of his all-time best, with tonight's emotionally-charged performance being no exception.
Probably one of the best jazz quartets playing live right now, Figes' group is tight, funky and melodic, without ever sacrificing any spirit of adventure in their playing. Tonight they were red hot and on their performance this evening alone you deserve to treat yourself to checking out a gig or three.
To check out some more of Figes' work, check out http://www.kevinfiges.co.uk/