Empirical (Destin-e Records)


Released July 16, 2007

JazzWise Album of the Year 2007




Debut release from one of the most talked about jazz groups on the UK scene. Empirical are a young quintet signed to Courtney Pine’s Destin-E Records label.

Their music encompasses a wide range of music while remaining within the tradition of modern jazz – which in the case of this their debut album means broadly the styles of playing developed by Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others in the 1950s and 60s, but with a definite finger on the pulse of the contemporary world. The programme is made up of original compositions by individual members of the quintet plus a piece by the late Ali Farka Touré titled, “Tulumba”.

Track Listing:

1. Blessings 5:42

2. Tulumba 3:50

3. Tyrant’s Tale 11:37

4. Clapton Willow 4:14

5. Deep 10:17

6. Kite 6:14

7. Fat Cat 5:01

8. Palantir 16:39

9. Dark Lady 8:47


Nathaniel Facey: alto saxophone, voice

Jay Phelps: trumpet, voice

Kit Downes: piano

Neil Charles: bass

Shaney Forbes: drums, percussion


Courtney Pine: bass clarinet

Dennis Rollins: trombone

Produced by Courtney Pine


Empirical could turn out to be one of the most important bands in UK jazz history. Their debut album is outstanding. It’s not just another jazz quintet, but a proper band, encompassing jazz’s past, present and future. You can feel the strong influence of Ornette throughout the entire project, but the freedom is structured. There’s a constant African undercurrent, especially on ‘The Deep’ and the Ali Farka Toure composition, ‘Tulumba’. There’s even a section of Forbes’ haunting ‘Kite’, which wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM record. Phelps’ ‘Clapton Willow’, on the other hand, has an almost Ellingtonian dignity. Facey’s passionate playing, with occasional hints of both Colemans and (on ‘Blessings’) even Cannonball, still has its own sound. Phelps, too, has a sound of his own. It’s peppery in places, very variedly rhythmic with glimpses of Booker Little, perhaps and Don Cherry. Charles and Forbes have their own things going and adapt so quickly to whatever direction the soloists and/or arranged passages take, often where you least expect them. One of the many highlights is the lengthy, multimood ‘A Tyrant’s Tale’ by Phelps, with tender then Cherry-like trumpet over sombre chords from Downes, whose playing is so fresh on every track. British Album of the Year!

Tony Hall (Jazzwise)