‘Empirical are among the most admired and individual-sounding bands in contemporary jazz. […] As anyone who has heard the band live will know, their approach is so fresh and their sound so appealing that there’s never a dull moment. Much of this is down to the instrumentation of alto saxophone, vibraphone, bass and drums, which has the lightness and clarity to convey quite adventurous ideas without losing the listener along the way.’ (The Observer)
Since their formation in 2007, Empirical haven’t ceased proving their fearless creative fervour, while honing an instantly recognisable group sound rife with raw energy and roiling emotion.
Featuring Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Tom Farmer (double bass), Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Shaney Forbes (drums), the band settled on its current line-up in 2008 following the departure of three of the original college-friends quintet.
Collective study and exploration has remained the bedrock of Empirical’s creative process and has seen the band assimilate influences from right across the rich history of jazz. While oblique harmonies, translucent textures and jagged, quick shifting rhythms are the signposts of Empirical’s musical territory, the band is not afraid to explore other musical realms: a collaboration with the string ensemble Benyounes Quartet, and the attendant challenge of making strings an integral part of the Empirical sound, brought out some of the band’s most complex and lyrical writing.
Empirical’s sound is defined by a deep commitment to improvisation and a uniquely collective spirit that allows each band member to play an equal part in shaping the music, during recording and in live performance.
Empirical’s knack for pushing boundaries is not limited to their music: in an effort to win new audiences for jazz, in February 2016, the band took their music directly into people’s daily lives by setting up a week-long ‘Pop-up Jazz Lounge’ at Old Street Underground station in central London. Performing more than twenty live sets over the course of six days, including an 8am gig for surprised morning commuters, their risk-taking approach paid off amply by attracting close to 3,000 listeners, many of them new to jazz.
The quartet bonded through a sense of common purpose: “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” recalls Tom Farmer.
Since then the band has taken their Pop-up Jazz Lounge to shopping centres in Birmingham and Berlin (as part of the JazzFest Berlin) and returned to Old Street Underground station.
Playing intense runs of gigs, such as their six-day residency at Foyles bookshop or their pop-up projects has also been a way of fulfilling the band’s ambition to develop music through experimentation during live performance. “We’ve always had huge respect for all those great bands that played together night after night.” notes Shaney Forbes. “It was pivotal to how their music developed and being able to do that ourselves allowed us to be in the mindset of improvising and composing on the spot.’
Coming together in an environment that treats jazz as a search rather than a destination, jazz’s heyday isn’t just a musical inspiration: “That constant search for meaning in the early avant garde was really powerful and it’s essential to our band.” Not least in seeing Empirical as a long-term collective project as Lewis Wright emphasises: "We're really committed to each other. We've been together for ten years, produced five albums and have no plans to put the brakes on."
Despite the intellectualism often ascribed to jazz, for Empirical, it’s ultimately all about moving, rather than impressing, their audience. As Nathaniel Facey sums it up: “It’s nice having people realise that they don’t have to ‘understand’ what we’re doing. That it’s really about what the music is communicating. Can I hear some honesty and some depth? Does it mean something to me? Does it move me?”
2016 Urban Music Awards – BEST JAZZ ACT
2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards - BEST JAZZ ENSEMBLE
2010 MOBO awards – BEST JAZZ ACT
2008 Parliamentary Jazz Awards - BEST JAZZ ENSEMBLE
2007 EBU/European Jazz Competition – WINNER
2007 Peter Whittingham Award – WINNER
2007 Jazzwise – ALBUM OF THE YEAR
2007 Mojo – JAZZ ALBUM OF THE YEAR