This is Empirical’s fifth album and finds drummer Shaney Forbes, bassist Tom Farmer, saxophonist Nathaniel Facey and vibraphonist Lewis Wright further refining their already distinctive music.
Last month the band preceded the release by creating a pop-up jazz lounge at a London underground station for the entertainment of commuters, which shows their determination to move forward creatively isn’t limited to the music.
The compositions are, as always, all original, and will please a retro-’60s jazz ear as well as a thoroughly 21st century one; the arrangements balance the hot alto saxophone against the cool vibraphone, with the rich double bass and constantly inventive drums bustling beneath.
Farmer’s Initiate The Initiations manages a New Orleans parade groove filtered through a cool, clean makeover, while his Anxiety Society is as edgy as an office-load of target-driven, over-mortaged sales reps. In contrast, Wright’s Lethe places a reflective, gentle coating around an intense centre. The vibraphonist’s Mind Over Mayhem could be the band’s general philosophy; it’s also a great percussion-bounced rhythm with Wright providing alternate cushion and pulse, and Facey dancing above, which then lowers the lamps for a slightly spooky noir section and a peach of a bass solo before the original bounce is back.
The timbral delight of Facey’s bubbling alto line against a heavily-reverbed, stainless steel sheen of a vibes chord is just one among many. Farmer’s bass lines manage to combine solidity and creativity in equal measure, while Forbes is just such a musical drummer in addition to achieving that deep groove.
Empirical are a prime argument in favour of a band that stays together down the years, honing their group empathy and common cause. Their strengths grow with each addition to the catalogue, and this is not only the band’s most mature work to date, but probably the best as well.
Have a small taste here:
- Empirical are appearing at the Bedford Jazz Festival tomorrow. More here.
- Their Jazz in the Round performance can be heard on Jazz On 3, BBC Radio 3, 11pm on Monday 28 March. More here.
Categories: CD review