The excellent gig that Empirical played at the CBSO Centre on June 1st reminded me that the quartet is one of the most original and distinctive jazz groups playing in UK. There is something special about their music.
The sound of the band based on the textures created by the combination of the alto saxophone of Nathaniel Facey with the vibraphone of Lewis Wright generates an immediate warmth and accessibility. The support from Tom Farmer on double bass and Shane Forbes on drums adds a rhythmic drive that augments the approachability of their music. The repertoire consists of some quite complex material and the tunes often have long intricate and angular lines, but the music always comes across with imagination and a lightness of touch that makes it very appealing .
Empirical has a great respect for the tradition of American jazz and they have undertaken projects that pay homage to great players such as Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson. One of the most interesting characteristics of Empirical’s approach is that it is rooted in the early avant-garde of the mid to late 1960s. Clearly the music of John Coltrane and that of Ornette Coleman are powerful influences, but I also hear echoes of the fascinating music that Blue Note was putting out in the late 60s, music by Jackie Maclean in his more adventurous period, music by Sam Rivers and the second great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones. Empirical’s music has a similar intensity and spirituality to that of these pioneers of the early avant-garde and, moreover, they are creating their own individual interpretation of a style we rarely hear today.
For all their respect for the American tradition and for the pioneers of the avant-garde, I still feel that there is something very British about their music. All the material is written by members of the band and they take it in turns to announce the tunes in their concerts. Their presentation is excellent, the announcements are clear and friendly and the band looks smart on stage. While it is clear that there is nothing intrinsically British about these features of their live performance, this concern for the audience and desire to build new followers is something that I believe is very characteristic of the British scene. One audience building approach of theirs has been the setting up of pop up sessions where the group sets up in a public space for a number of days and plays at different times of the day when they will attract people on the way to or from work, or on a lunch break. These have been at Old Street Tube Station, and in shopping arcades in Birmingham, Cheltenham and Berlin.
This June they are one of the UK bands playing the Rochester Jazz festival as part of the Made in UK project, and I feel that they are excellent representatives of British jazz. They will playing material from their latest recordings; two Eps on their own label entitled Indifference Culture and Distraction Tactics.
Empirical play two shows in the Rochester Jazz Festival on Saturday 22nd June, at 6.45 and 8.45 in Christ Church Rochester.