Empirical ‘Tabula Rasa’ 2CD (Naim Jazz) 3/5

Empirical-Tabula-RasaThis is in fact the third album on the label for London-based collective Empirical, the previous two dating from 2009 and 2011 respectively, and the latest offering roughly follows suit in an Eric Dolphy from his ‘Out to Lunch ‘ period meets the classic Coltrane quartet inspired set. A similar core line-up to previously of the quartet comprises the alto saxophone of Nathaniel Farcey, the vibes of Lewis Wright, the bass of Tom Farmer with Shaney Forbes on the drums. What is different this time round is the addition of strings in the form of the Benyounes quartet who add an extra layer of texture to the band’s overall sound and if they develop this over a couple of albums, it could just be the making of them. Indeed in the six years in which Empirical have been in existence there has been a marked transformation from contemporary jazz to a jazz ensemble with distinctive classical chamber group influences. One of the most interesting compositions ‘The Prophet’ has a strong rootsy folk influence with a vibes and alto saxophone led riff and this conjures up late 1960s Bobby Hutcherson. On the opener ‘The simple light shines brightest’ there is something of an Eastern flavour in the use of strings and Farcey’s alto lead is accompanied with some tasteful drum accompaniment. Coltrane’s musical presence is most evident on the spiritually imbued pieces ‘Ascent’ and ‘Descent’ with some gentle strings leading the way. A recent UK tour including a date in mid-October at the Purcell room will have done the band a power of good and one looks forward to their future output and continuing evolution. Tim Stenhouse