Elements Of Truth CD
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Empirical, winners of Best Jazz Act at the MOBO's 2010, return with their third album 'Elements Of Truth' on Naim Jazz Records. British post-bop pin-up boys Empirical made a swift ascent to the heights of the UK jazz scene in April 2007, when their Courtney Pine produced, eponymous debut album garnering the group accolades such as Jazzwise Magazine's Album of the Year, Mojo Magazine's Jazz Album of the Year and BBC Jazz Awards Best Ensemble. Their 2009 debut Naim Jazz release Out 'n' In was subsequently greeted with wide praise for its Eric Dolphy-inspired originals, culminating in a MOBO for Best Jazz Act, live on BBC TV in October 2010. This Autumn, Empirical return with 'Elements Of Truth', their most expertly crafted, mature and individual statement to date. However, this talented quartet's successful projection has not been as straightforward as it may, at first, seem. Even in jazz, it would seem the best 'story' pushes praise for the music itself into periphery, whilst it focuses on the dramas that talented, headstrong musicians, who dream of a uniquely democratic jazz 'collective', often play out. The old cliché of artistic differences was applied in abundance, with a tabloid hunger, by the jazz columnists, amidst controversy surrounding the exit of trumpeter Jay Phelps and pianist Kit Downes (whose subsequent solo album received a Mercury Prize nomination). The lucid reality being that advocating a progressive jazz 'collective' is easier said than done, but in very simple terms, sometimes people want to do their own thing. Elements Of Truth is about getting back to the essence of Empirical; observing, experimenting and commenting through music. Unlike the finite Dolphy-led insight of Out 'n' In, the new album gives Empirical space to draw upon influences from film and tv, proverbs, sayings and even sports! So while collectively they will acknowledge musical influences from the oblique sounds of Andrew Hill and Eric Dolphy's sublime Out To Lunch, to the more contemporary stylings of Vijay Iyer or namecheck Wayne Shorter and Branford Marsalis, it is their unique ability to express what they think and feel on a range of ideas through the collaborative trial and error process of jazz improvisation that makes them such a powerful group. Eric Dolphy, the fabled Blue Note recording artist, whose premature death in 1964 prevented the broad recognition he so much deserved, became the inspiration behind Empirical's MOBO winning 'Out 'n' In' in 2009. The magic behind the new album, Elements Of Truth, is the knowledge and experience that allows Empirical, on their first wholly self-produced record to date, to interact so vivaciously in the creative process, from the Bjork inspired repetition of Simple Things (composed by bass player Tom Farmer), to the boxing affected vitality of In The Grill (by saxophonist Nathaniel Facey), to the House Of Horror infused meter changes of An Ambiguous State Of Mind (also by Farmer, and written to feature the album's guest pianist, young Londoner George Fogel) and the ethereal progression of title track The Element Of Truth (vibes player Lewis Wright's first Empirical composition on record. Now in their third chapter, this journey is the source of Empirical's strength and the immensity behind Elements Of Truth. Enlightened by the journey that has granted them standing ovations from New York to Molde and Montreal to London and a brimming trophy cabinet, the Empirical quartet, still in their mid-twenties, are finally in full swing, on and off stage. Empirical are: Nathaniel Facey (alto sax) Lewis Wright (vibes, glock) Shaney Forbes (drums) Tom Farmer (double bass)
Empirical burst onto the UK jazz scene in 2007, with a self-titled debut album that proclaimed them the new young lions: feisty 20-somethings with bags of energy, studiously channelled into creating a distinctly retro style of acoustic jazz that owed more to late-50s/early-60s Blue Note recordings than it did to anything happening on the streets of 21st century London. During 2008, the band underwent line-up changes and took a step towards the leftfield with an ongoing project exploring the musical legacy of Eric Dolphy – aided by the recruitment of vibraphonist Lewis Wright, and culminating in the 2009 follow-up album Out ‘n’ In, which investigated the wonky mid-60s strut of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Now, with this third album, Empirical have come up to date – or at least as far as the 1990s.
Operating as a core quartet of Wright on vibes and glockenspiel, double-bassist Tom Farmer, alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey and drummer Shaney Forbes – plus special guest and long-time collaborator George Fogel on piano – Empirical have made a decisive move away from swinging jazz and closer to the kind of cerebral groove first outlined in New York in the late-80s/early-90s. In a way, it was inevitable they should follow this route: it’s an aesthetic that has continued to inspire young jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic just as much as those 60s recordings that first got Empirical fired-up.
Opener Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say centres around a circular vibes figure, launching into a zesty math-funk not dissimilar to the recent output of Chicago’s minimalist-influenced Claudia Quintet. But it’s on tracks like In the Grill that the most obvious influence is heard, with jerky, fractured drums and Facey’s frenetic yet precise alto recalling the 80s experiments of M-Base artists such as Steve Coleman. There are other, more meditative moods at work, too – largely thanks to the diaphanous sonorities generated by the combination of piano and vibes. Cosmos (For Carl Sagan) makes a brief return to a Dolphy-ish limp before jettisoning into a spectral space walk, like Morton Feldman on an interstellar vacation.
Empirical are crashing irresistibly through the decades. Next stop, 21st century. --Daniel Spicer
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Top Customer Reviews
All these things and many more appear on this album, with all new compositions from the band members - 7 from Tom Farmer, 2 from Nathaniel Facey. While Facey might appear to be the band leader and his Sax is given a lot of time up-front in the mix; it is Wright's Vibraphone that catches the ear, with strange effects, beautiful and unusual harmonies, lush chords. At times piano and vibraphone duet and it is like modern chamber music.
Empirical's first album was truly stunning and appeared to come out of nowhere. Their second album was more dissonant, but also more familiar - being a tribute to Eric Dolphy. Now they have moved on to more modern territory - maybe with influences from 1990s Jazz in the US. Steve Coleman and M-Base,perhaps? Tom Farmer mentions in interviews how he is influenced by Vijay Iyer - but this is really only a starting point for the group. Farmer is providing structures, but a lot of the time, these lead on to "Free" improvising. Much in the way that Wayne Shorter's current quartet does.
It is the unique sound of this band and how they have had the opportunity to play together a lot, that shapes this album.Read more ›
It relies heavily on bass player Tom Farmer's angular, tricksy compostions that, although they swerve and leap all over the shop, in the end left me with a hollow feeling and the overwhelming suspicion that I was hearing a load of virtuoso jazz course graduates trying to out-weird/ clever each other, which they do with aplomb. Unfortunately, along the way they seem to relinquish things like decent tunes, soulfulness and emotion. The only things that remain are a near manic insistence on long, fiddly, atonal lines and tricky time signatures. They wheel out brilliantly executed Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy imitations too. At nearly an hour, it noodles relentlessly on, insisting not only on being very self consciously hip and serious, but accompanying this with silly, overblown artwork and pseudo-late-60s tune titles (Yin & Yang, Cosmos, The Element of Truth). The whole thing smacks of breathtaking pomposity - it is derivitive, charmless, severe, clinical, and, in the end, just plain boring.
A special conundrum is that I'm almost certain Facey's alto sax is not in tune with the rest of the band - he overblows, and it just gets on your nerves, which is a shame, because when he just relaxes and plays (The Element of Truth, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind part 2) it is wonderful. But we have to wait until tracks 8 and 9 for them to take their foot off the M-Base gas enough to let the music come through.Read more ›