As a saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, Kevin Figes carries on the tradition of the pioneering British jazz musicians of the sixties and seventies. Hardly surprising given that he studied saxophone with Elton Dean and had a long musical association with Keith Tippett playing in the pianist’s ‘Tapestry’ big band and Octet.

A wide and diverse taste in music is clearly evident in Figes recordings, and his new recording Wallpaper Music II (check out our review here) perfectly captures this musical curiosity.

Before he even gets started on his favourite albums, Kevin says “Firstly, a quick disclaimer, my top ten can change a bit depending on the day of the week!”

  1. The Beatles -The ‘White’ Album (Apple)

My musical life started from a very early age with the Beatles. I absolutely loved them! When I bought this album ( cashing in my £6 national savings certificate to do so) I was immediately under its spell. Rock, blues, whimsy, ballads, strange lyrics. Huge variety, great individual writing, and of course, ‘Revolution No.9’.

  1. Soft Machine – Triple Echo (Harvest)

Ok, this is a triple album, but it does in my view represent the best of the Softs. It was also a key moment in my listening development. I heard the BBC sessions on this album played on Radio 1 on a Saturday afternoon and was smitten. The combination of the irregular time signatures, fusion of rock and jazz, Robert Wyatt’s unique vocals, early Kevin Ayers, psychedelia and the addition of horns (particularly Elton Dean) paved the way for my musical life.

  1. Charlie Parker – The Savoy Sessions (Savoy)

A five-album set (sorry!). My curiosity piqued, I delved into jazz. This was one of the first albums I bought, and for me this is the best of Parker (1944  -1948). The sound is clear, free from the horrible reverb on some of the Verve recordings, and his beautiful sound is the most immediate thing to me. I also love hearing the outtakes and studio chatter. Sheer exuberance and brilliance. Special mention to Max Roach too.

  1. John Coltrane – Coltrane (Impulse)

And amongst the first few albums I bought was this one, the ‘blue’ cover. This was a whole different ball game. This was someone playing as if their life depended on it, struggling to express inner feelings, and through that struggle expressing their inner feelings. By which I mean you can’t have one without the other. ‘Out of this world’ came to represent something bigger than music. Then there is the sublime ‘Soul Eyes’, with the beautiful McCoy Tyner solo.

  1. Charles Mingus – Charles Mingus presents Charles Mingus (Candid)

As well as Parker and Coltrane, I came across Mingus. He immediately appealed to me. I’ve chosen this Candid recording because I love the idea that they tried to recreate a live show in the studio, complete with talking. Elements of free improvisation (including wonderful ‘conversations’ between players) are coming to the fore within written material. Eric Dolphy is so unique. I found his individualism very inspiring, and his different personalities on alto sax, bass clarinet and flute. I also liked the fact that Mingus more than willing to get political with ‘Fables of Faubus’.

  1. Hermeto Pascoal – A Musica Livre De Hermeto Pascoal (Sinter)

I first heard Hermeto on ‘Little Church’ on Miles Davis ‘Live Evil’, one of the most sublime tracks I’ve ever heard. I started delving and discovered ‘Bebe’ on this album, a tune I’ve played many times since. The compositions, sound world, improvisations and sheer quirkiness of Hermeto’s genius are all here. ‘Carinhoso’ is particularly beautiful.

  1. Dave Holland – Points of View (ECM)

In about 1998 I listened to this CD and felt a strong attraction to Dave Holland’s writing and the way his band played together. Vibes instead of piano made it particularly stand out. I decided to go to Ronnie Scott’s to see them play. I was fully expecting to see Steve Wilson on alto, who I thought was great. I was surprised to see another sax player on the gig but was absolutely blown away by him. He was Chris Potter. The way he played seemed to encompass all of jazz history at once and then spit it out in wonderfully musical lines and ideas. A big saxophone influence. ‘The Balance’ is my favourite track.

  1. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (Virgin)

I was familiar with Robert Wyatt from the early Soft Machine, and particularly liked “The Moon in June”. This is one of my absolute favourite solo albums for many different reasons and represents a world outside of jazz that I find very inspiring. I love the compositions, the choice of instruments, the craft of how long to stay somewhere, when to move on. When you add Robert’s voice on to and listen to the lyrics, it takes you somewhere else. That’s really what I ask of music. His phrasing and improvising are brilliant too.

  1. Henry Cow – In Praise of Learning (Virgin)

More of a recent discovery, and hugely influential in getting rid of all those boxes we all like to put things in! Henry Cow were a force of nature, daring to combine incredibly complex writing, somewhat inspired by contemporary classical composers, with rock instrumentation, free improvisation and political lyrics. For me, this was a clear message to write what you want, how you want, and not worry about genre (or indeed how popular you may or may not be!). ‘Living in the heart of the beast’ is a very good example. ‘War’ in contrast short and to the point. Fred Frith’s ‘Beautiful as the moon…’ very exciting and indeed beautiful.

  1. Bruno Maderna – ‘La Morte ha fatto l’uovo’ (Death laid an egg)

Just to finish things off, I’ve included something which covers at least three things I love: Contemporary classical Italian film soundtracks! Maderna writes some fascinating material for acoustic guitar, strings etc and is also not scared to do a little tape manipulation. I know it won’t appeal to everyone (or even most people!) but in line with everything I have chosen I find this exciting.