Founded in 2007, ‘Empirical is still a reliable touchstone of contemporary British jazz at its most sophisticated’ today (Jazzwise 2022).
Featuring Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Tom Farmer (double bass), Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Shaney Forbes (drums), the band settled on its line-up in 2008 following the departure of three of the original college-friends quintet.
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.
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 has not been 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.
With their most recent recordings, ‘they have continued to refresh their progressive brand of jazz that weaves together intricate contemporary grooves, unfamiliar compositional forms and open-minded post-bop improvisations’ that tend to feel more part of the compositional development than solos (Jazzwise).
Alongside their ceaselessly fearless creative fervour, Empirical have succeeded in establishing an instantly recognisable group sound that is rife with raw energy and roiling emotion.
‘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)
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 ‘now legendary Pop-up Jazz Lounge’ (Time Out London) 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.