Empirical has become one of Europe’s top jazz ensembles by creating a bracing sound rife with roiling emotion. The quartet builds on the extroverted improvisational ethos of the 1960s New Thing, embracing oblique harmonies, translucent textures and jagged, quick shifting rhythms. Featuring Nathaniel Facey (alto saxophone), Shaney Forbes (drums), Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Tom Farmer (bass), Connection is the fifth Empirical album, the first to feature only the quartet with no guests, and the first released outside of their home base of England. It captures the ensemble at its most pure and potent.
“Each of our previous albums was an experiment, where we included various guests from a string quartet to a pianist to bass clarinet,” Farmer says. “This time we went into a great sounding studio with just the four of us. It’s an accurate representation of what we’re doing now, what our gigs sound like. This is our expression.”
Following the release of its eponymous debut album in 2007, Empirical quickly established itself as a creatively charged crew unafraid to explore jazz’s wild and wooly left field. They threw down the gauntlet with their acclaimed second album, 2009’s Out ‘n’ In, which offered a highly personal salute to Eric Dolphy.
“We were working really well, taking it really seriously,” Farmer, who joined at that time along with Wright, says. “I’d never met guys who took it so seriously. The process of studying together is really what brought us together, and we just carried on doing it.”
In many ways Connection is a similarly bold statement, a program of original music that unfolds with the kind of intuitive narrative momentum generated by a great set.
The band’s interactive group approach is built on Farmer and Forbes highly kinetic rhythm section tandem, while Facey possesses an instantly recognizable alto tone. But in many ways Wright’s vibes define the group’s sound. From the moment he joined the band, he catalyzed a new way of writing and arranging material. “We all loved the transparency,” Farmer says. “You can hear exactly what everyone’s playing. Lewis is quite a unique player. He gets this warmth on an instrument that can sound quite harsh and metallic. I love having all this room on the bottom, without having to think about a pianist’s left hand.”
After the release of the band’s third album Elements of Truth, Empirical won the inaugural Golubovich Jazz Scholars fellowship at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The residency at the prestigious conservatory led to the band’s collaboration with the all-women string ensemble Benyounes Quartet, who were featured on Empirical’s fourth album Tabula Rasa. The ambitious, often spiritually-tinged project featured some of the band’s most beautiful and complex writing. Following that satisfying musical detour, it’s no surprise that Connection finds the quartet getting back to basics. Recorded after a week-long run at Foyles Bookshop London, the album captures the raw energy, brash ideas, and volatile group sound that Empirical has built upon the vast territory opened by jazz’s mid-1960s explorers.
Connection press release