Racking up the first of two new EPs, a London Jazz Festival appearance imminent and a bigger pop-up tube station space lined up — now is the time for Empirical once again.
Off to IKEA yes jazz musicians shop — shock — there is nothing remotely flat pack about Tom Farmer ah except in a strictly off-the-shelf thought only in the folding department when he gets to collapse a handy touring bass down to 22kg, useful touring this year overseas with famed sitarist Anoushka Shankar. The double bassist tomorrow night, quick or you will miss him, is playing with Wave in Ronnie Scott’s. And his upcoming releases include a sideman appearance on the new Ant Law record Life I Know.
Ant, Tom refers to, speaking this morning on the phone, as a “legend”, someone who he has known since the perfect fourths theorising guitarist moved down from Edinburgh to London.
The bassist who is most renowned as one quarter of the hugely acclaimed international touring quartet Empirical above far left with beside him Shaney Forbes, Nathaniel Facey and Lewis Wright touches on yes Ant’s novel perfect fourths system that the guitarist has written theory books about and marvels at his “great musical palate,” going on to describe Ant generously as “a really eclectic musician.”
As for his own regular non-fold down double bass he says “it is not that old,” and fills me in on how a bunch of Hungarian “bodies” (for a spooky moment I thought he was referring to corpses) were then “put together” by British luthiers of which his is one. Tom uses it in London and gigs where he can get to by car.
Turning to Empirical first things first the clobber. Yes, Empirical are the best dressed hard bop band to be found anywhere from Land’s End to John O’Groats and marlbank can exclusively reveal that during their next pop-up in Old Street will see them dressed for a photo shoot in bespoke suits thanks to a deal with Shoreditch tailor Beggars Run. Tom says the quartet will be in a bigger unit than before so even more room for commuters to chill and possibly forsake the dubious pleasures of reading Metro and the Evening Osborne before moving along to check out the latest juice bar or cabling boutique nearby.
The band have two EPs on the way before their album is released. Listen to ‘Celestial Being’ from the first of these, above. The sessions were recorded at famed St John’s Wood studio RAK where the band’s vibist Lewis Wright who also is a drummer is a versatile in-house sessioneer.
We talk about Bobby Hutcherson a bit and Tom remembers flying down from Scotland to support the late great Out To Lunch vibist for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast inside no 47 Frith Street. I happened to be there that night and witnessing the reaction the band were I think it is fair to say pretty gobsmacked to be there with one of their heroes.
“I can't remember what Nat said exactly,” Tom says. “But we were all gone in the air,” a thought that chimes literally with the thought and talk of Dolphy that I brought up looking ahead to some unheard Dolphy alternates about to surface on a tasty archival release to be put out on this coming black Friday by the deep catalogue jazz heads at Resonance.
Tom talks about bassist Ray Brown and his enjoyment a few years ago playing alongside the Carter-ian Gregory Hutchinson (Droppin’ Things) backing the singer Sarah McKenzie who references that Brown sound a little through her devotion to Diana Krall who was mentored by Ella Fitzgerald’s former husband on her own retro records. He also enthuses about Richard Davis again from Out To Lunch and not only but also Astral Weeks both for his incredible sound and his commitment to civil rights through his education work.
Empirical are a very democratic band and share stage announcements, there is no obvious leader. Nat and Shaney go way back to their school days together and Nat is the most formal dresser of the four of them — you read it here first, Tom says. He also is one of Britain’s finest ever alto saxophone players up there in the world class pantheon with Joe Harriott, Peter King and Martin Speake. And the band of course are more than the sum of their considerable parts SG
Check Empirical during the EFG London Jazz Festival at the Purcell Room on 16 November. Details.