Live Review: Empirical - Purcell Room Southbank Centre, London 16/11/2018


The London-based jazz quartet kicks off this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival in style, celebrating their new EP with a memorable launch show at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room.

Since forming in 2007, Empirical have been dazzling with their improvisatory melodies and flourishing virtuosity. 11 years on, the band still charms with an unbridled creativity, rife with fervour and unmistakable passion for the music, driven by an unpredictable energy which keeps audiences at the edge of their seat. When they perform, the four musicians come together, working as one cohesive organ to pump out some heart-soaring jazz. Watching the band perform is always a delight, and Friday evening was no different as they delivered a special launch show of their newest EP ‘Indifference Culture’ on the opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The evening passed by in a flurry of notes; saxophonist Nathaniel Facey creates a gorgeous tone on the alto saxophone, often leading at the forefront of cascading melodies. Vibraphonist Lewis Wright offsets the rich sound of the saxophone with translucent touches, which sparkle through the texture with it’s sweet timbre, as demonstrated in ‘Celestial Being’. Tom Farmer’s dynamic bass playing creates an ever-present spirit, driving the music forward and maintaining the momentum even during more tranquil moments such as those found in ‘Persephone’, and Shaney Forbes is a master of the drums, with every hit carefully thought out so that they all add something to the music. It’s clear that jazz is a shared passion between the quartet, and the focus and intensity translates well into an encapsulating performance which will retain your attention from the first note to the last without any sign of the concentration breaking.

The way the band performs conveys a sonic fluidity, despite the occasionally angular melodies and technically challenging passages, and you can’t help but be impressed by the ease at which they tackle moments of extreme virtuosity like it’s a piece of cake. Never complacent, the band teases with complex rhythmic and melodic sections, constantly staying on their toes. Setting a high standard of the performance for the rest of the festival to follow, they’ve managed to exceed and further push expectations with their unique sound, and even if you’re not an avid fan of jazz, you’ll find something within their music that will make you want to discover more.

Words by Athena Kam