Empirical: Connection (Cuneiform)

Storied, award winning UK jazz quartet issue impressive fifth set

Released Mar 18th, 2016 via Cuneiform / By Norman Miller
Empirical: Connection (Cuneiform) This fifth album by British quartet Empirical - Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Shaney Forbes (drums), Lewis Wright (vibes) and Tom Farmer (bass) - cements their reputation as one of the finest young jazz ensembles around – winners of Best Jazz Act in the 2010 MOBO Awards for their their Eric Dolphy-tribute release Out 'n' In. Hopefully their shift to the outstanding US label Cuneiform will broaden their fan base across the Atlantic.

While earlier albums have majored on oblique harmonies and fast-shifting rhythms, Connection feels constructed in a more approachable and less showy - though still utterly engaging - way. With Miles mania in the air courtesy of the new biopic, for example, there's a welcome echo of Davis's woefully under-rated Birth Of The Cool in the fullness of the ensemble sound on the bass-and-vibe led Stay The Course and the bluesy Driving Force.

There's a dash of both Africa and South America in the percussive nods that weaves through Initiate The Initiations – samba infusions along with staccato sax honks and vibe washes – and also Mind Over Mayhem, with its spiralling sax lines and pulsing vibe underlay.

Breathless sax flurries and great time changes star in the beautifully-constructed Anxiety Society, while Card Clash exudes a brilliant 3am throwaway sense of freedom in its interplay of sax and vibe.

While most of the 11 tracks are uptempo, It's Out Of Your Hands and Lethe are moody gem – the first boasting a lovely lyricism to its sax lines and upfront vibes, the other oozing seductive wistfulness in its long, drawn out sax.

Things only sag occasionally. There's an autopilot feel to the closing Fluid Flow, while the brilliant early promise of The Maze – a percussion masterclass of what Steve Reich might sound like if he'd opted for jazz – descends into pointless drum bashing.

All-in-all, though, this is a fantastic updating of some of the finest jazz influences of the late fifties and early sixties for the 21st century.