Thursday 18th February - 8pm
Nathaniel Facey (alto) Lewis Wright (vibes) Tom Farmer (bass) Shaney Forbes (drums)
Read review with photos at the Left Lion web site.
The American sociologist Richard Sennett recently posited that it takes around ten thousand hours of practice until someone becomes truly skilled at their craft, which sounds about right to this writer. Given that factoid, you can’t help but be taken back by the fresh-faced foursome that is Empirical as they stroll onstage at The Bonnington Theatre and proceed to give a master class in jazzology.
All in their mid twenties, they exude skill and musical prowess in equal measure while looking like they’ve just bunked off double maths for the afternoon. Are they allowed out this late, you wonder, as they charge into a storming set that revolves around their second album ‘Out N’ In’ – an exploration of themes and inspirations taken from Eric Dolphy’s classic 1964 Blue Note release ‘Out To Lunch.’
If all that sounds a bit ‘jazz club’ then fear not – these guys have a modern twist on the canonic recordings. Drummer Shaney Forbes comes on at times like The Roots’ Questlove, cracking the snare with a boom-bap that’s pure block party business, before easing back into the classic pulsing hi-hat jazzual rhythms. Vibraphonist Lewis Wright channels the spirit of Bobby Hutcherson while alto sax fiend Nat Facey prowls the stage like a ghost dog, all intense ninja-esque concentration and heavy-lidded scowls. Bassist and composer of many of the tracks Tom Farmer, meanwhile, spends much of the gig in his own private space: eyes closed, head thrown back in reverie.
Together they make music that’s complex , involving and often startlingly beautiful. As ever with jazz its all about perspective – as Gilles Peterson has pointed out, for many jazz conjures up images of weak-ass Kenny G riffs dribbling inanely from Starbucks, whereas in reality jazz is much more about Archie Shepp blasting out from a soundsystem that Jah Shaka wouldn’t say no to.
In the genteel theatre surroundings of the Bonnington, tracks like Dolphy’s ‘Hat And Beard’ get twisted all ways up, while the swinging original ‘Interpretate’ is a groove-led highlight. Mellower moments such as closer ‘Bowden Out’ showcase the range Empirical have – I’d love to see them in a sweaty club somewhere, sandwiched between DJs dropping Flying Lotus and Fela Kuti, say, and working up a real bitches brew. Music this good, this strong, is way too powerful to be left on the margins: Empirical got it going on.