Empirical – Out 'n' In – Naim Jazz

by | Jan 13, 2010 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Empirical – Out ‘n’ In – Naim Jazz NaimCD139, 58:55 ****:

(Nathaniel Facey – alto saxophone; Lewis Wright – vibraphone; Tom Farmer – double bass; Shaney Forbes – drums; special guest: Julian Siegel – bass clarinet, tenor saxophone)

British band Empirical’s second outing, Out ‘n’ In, is for anyone who has dove deep into the Eric Dolphy discography and wants to go deeper but in a different direction. The reason is because Out ‘n’ In is a tribute that goes beyond tribute and is a homage that transcends mere homage. Empirical celebrates Dolphy’s underrated legacy but also broadens that outlook.

In November, 2008, as part of the London Jazz Festival, Empirical was given the opportunity to perform work from Dolphy’s seminal release, Out to Lunch. That project developed into Out ‘n’ In, which is meant to relate Dolphy’s concepts and paths of expression and channel them into a contemporary timeframe while filtered through new music. The result is an ambitious and imaginative outpouring that is a compelling, creative and excellently constructed eleven-track program that features six Dolphy-inspired originals, three shorter interludes and two new arrangements of Dolphy material.

When Empirical began these recordings, the core trio expanded to a quartet. Vibraphonist Lewis Wright – who was a guest during the London Jazz Festival show – permanently joined alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, double-bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Shaney Forbes. This lineup provided a larger framework in which to honor and more easily communicate Dolphy’s multi-instrumental jazz language and philosophy. In addition, bass clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Julian Siegel was brought onboard as a special guest to further advance the in-depth Dolphy appreciation.

Farmer’s opener "Out But In" is a direct response to Dolphy’s "Mrs. Parker of KC," itself an acknowledgement to Charlie Parker, one of Dolphy’s influences. Like the Dolphy composition, "Out But In" has a restive spirit that applies but also splits from the bebop model. It’s the most deliberately concentrated excursion and acts as a guidepost for what evolves during the rest of the hour-long set. Facey’s volatile alto asserts the main theme as he intertwines with the rhythm duo. The tune stays unpredictable with the use of odd time signatures, and Farmer showcases an expressive and slightly off-tilted bass solo. Wright also takes an impressive solo supported by Farmer’s bass and Forbes’ drums. "Out But In" is a confident combination of organization and liberation and is sympathetic to what Dolphy was attempting in the early 1960s.

"Out But In" is a perfect prelude to "Hat & Beard," which was Dolphy’s ode to Thelonious Monk. Trying to match Dolphy’s evocative authority and his unsettling insinuations of lucid aberration is not a small feat. But Empirical manages to craft a commanding interpretation. Wright eloquently echoes the unexpected vibraphone lines, eerie chords and plunging moments of dissonance created by Bobby Hutcherson, who was part of Dolphy’s group. Wright is the anchor as Facey and Siegel punctuate the eight-minute jaunt with varied and disparate reed cadences. Yet, despite the angularity, there is a playfulness in "Hat & Beard" that becomes more apparent with every listen. That mixture of avantgarde and accessibility governed Dolphy’s best numbers and Empirical repeats that relationship.

That sense of playfulness is inherent during Facey’s "So He Left," which is prefaced by the minute-and-a-half "A Conversation," a concise, improvised exchange between Facey’s and Siegel’s saxophones. "So He Left" is inspired by Dolphy’s tenure in Charles Mingus’ ensemble, whom Dolphy worked with off and on between 1959 and 1964. The style certainly owes more to Mingus than Dolphy. It has a formalized arrangement that unites both darkness and waggish humor and is accentuated by transitioning rhythms and particularly by Forbes’ vivid drums and percussion.  

Empirical does an about face for Facey’s introspective requiem, "A Bitter End for a Tender Giant," written in memory of Dolphy’s tragic death at age 36. While touring Europe Dolphy collapsed into a diabetic coma but was left untreated when it was assumed he had overdosed on drugs (Dolphy had been clean his entire life). Siegel’s somber bass clarinet, Wright’s sparkling vibes and Facey’s alto link together to pay respect and thanks.

On the record’s longest cut, the through-composed and free-bop "Dolphyus Morphyus," Empirical incorporates Dolphy’s Harmonic Symmetry theory. The diverse masterwork progresses through various moods and modifications in demonstrating Dolphy’s ability to tell a story amid an adventurous and ever-moving perspective. In keeping with Empirical’s stated point that the group is not centered around a specific front line or leader, sovereignty moves between alto sax, bass clarinet and vibes with limber, responsive support from the bass and drums.

Empirical’s other Dolphy reading is "Gazzelloni," another piece from Out to Lunch. As an ironic warm-up to Dolphy’s upbeat tune, Farmer presents a terse and sober bass solo, "Interlude." "Gazzelloni" is one of the most accessible cuts on Out to Lunch and Empirical’s treatment of the Dolphy number is an album standout. Wright is brilliant and formidable on vibes, Facey’s alto ascends smartly and Forbes and Farmer are stimulating. Forbes adds several attention-getting breaks in the last half of the arrangement.

The program ends with two more Farmer originals and another Facey/Siegel duet. The fluent and meta-lingual "Syndicalism" is motivated by Dolphy’s conversational personality. The instruments work together to emphasize communal communication, with no conventional leadership role and some unorthodox soloing, where the distinct song elements spin and pivot to a heated upheaval akin to a vigorous and fast-moving discussion. "Another Conversation" is the third and final interlude, this one a bass clarinet and alto saxophone preamble that deftly introduces the shadowy and pensive closer, "Bowden Out." The noir-ish, six-minute track is a slow-simmering and poised piece, an acutely felt last call and goodnight.

On Out ‘n’ In, Empirical affirms contemporary jazz music can also be ardently rooted in tradition, something that some younger bands with a lot to prove don’t always understand. It’s anyone’s guess where Empirical may go in the future, but they already are taking some intriguing steps forward. They paid tribute to another great musician, Cannonball Adderley, at the 2009 Brecon Jazz Festival. There is obviously much more to anticipate from these gifted young players.

1. Out But In
2. Hat & Beard
3. A Conversation
4. So He Left
5. A Bitter End for a Tender Giant
6. Dolphyus Morphyus
7. Interlude
8. Gazzelloni
9. Syndicalism
10. Another Conversation
11. Bowden Out

— Doug Simpson

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