Rychard Carrington reports on Empirical – Cambridge Jazz, The Junction, Cambridge 18 June 2010

Junction 2, The

World Cup football this evening of course guaranteed a low turn-out, but those present experienced a more subtle and deeply satisfying pleasure in this evening of fine modern jazz.


Empirical’s debut album was rated jazz album of the year by both Jazzwise and Mojo in 2007. The band have now evolved into a quartet: Nathaniel Facey on alo sax;Tom 'Tillah' Farmer on double bass; Shane Forbes on drums; Lewis Wright on vibraphone. Tonight’s set was thoroughly based around their latest album, Out ‘n ‘In, a tribute to Eric Dolphy, featuring two Dolphy compositions (Hat and Beard and Gazzelloni, opening and penultimate numbers respectively), and pieces composed by band members – mostly either Facey or Farmer - influenced by Dolphy and sometimes purporting to describe chapters in his life, e.g. So He Left, his in/out involvement with Charles Mingus's band, and A Bitter End For A Tender Giant, about his death following mistreatment in a French hospital. Surely Dolphy would have been impressed with the perfect blend of respect and fresh progression that Empirical displayed.


Each of the four young players (all smartly dressed in suits and ties, which was nice) played outstandingly, relating keenly to each other throughout. I haven't seen that many vibraphone players in my life, but Lewis Wright is definitely the best of them. Forbes and Farmer busied themselves on drums and bass with great intricacy, showing just what richness these instruments can produce when played to their full potential. Rhythmic interactions between these three were quite something. One might have expected Facey’s sax to take the foreground, especially considering the Dolphy focus, but he blended in perfectly in this band of equals, so that each player got equal prominence.


Tom Farmer ‘s Bowden Out ended an evening of consistently high musical quality. Jazz is such a rich language. Let us give thanks to Cambridge Jazz for providing such rare pleasures.


Writer: Rychard Carrington