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Empirical are to enter the recording studio on Friday for the first session of a recording stint that will see the award winning post-hardbop band laying down tracks for their latest album for the Naim label joined by a string section. Empirical late last year performed brand new material with the Benyounes Quartet at the London Jazz Festival, some of which is destined for the album, and they join them in the London studio for the session. Benyounes are an ensemble formed six years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and find themselves with a key Brit-jazz band that made a huge impact when it appeared fully formed out of nowhere, as it seemed at the time, for a multi award-winning self titled debut album produced by Courtney Pine for his label Destin-e back in 2007. The band won both Jazzwise and Mojo album of the year, and has since gone on to build on its reputation recording for the Naim label.

The band’s alto saxophonist and co-founder, Nathaniel Facey, was in action last night playing quite superbly with new vocal star in the making singer-pianist Theo Jackson at the 606 club in Chelsea. Facey has been nominated in the UK instrumentalist of the year category of the inaugural Jazz FM Awards that take place at the end of January. The set’s standout was easily ‘A Bitter End For A Tender Giant’ with Facey in duo with Jackson. Facey also showed great poise and finely honed interpretative ability on Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue’ near the beginning. ‘A Bitter End…’ composed by the saxophonist first appeared on Empirical’s acclaimed 2009 album Out ’n’ In, Facey’s evocative and unsentimental tribute to Eric Dolphy, who died young after his diabetes condition was left untreated at a Berlin hospital in 1964 on the erroneous assumption by doctors that Dolphy was a drug addict.

The duo setting was complemented by band performances featuring the Oxford-based singer joined by the Ahmad Jamal-influenced rising star, the 19-year-old Reuben James, who took to the piano stool for a bunch of numbers when Jackson sang, joining Facey, Jackson band bassist Shane Alessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Reuben James has been touring as a member of Jay Phelps’ quartet recently, the trumpeter who played so memorably on Empirical’s debut album, and who will shortly be seen playing the part of a fictional 1930s trumpeter in Stephen Poliakoff’s television drama Dancing on the Edge as a member of the Louis Lester Band. Empirical are touring following the recording sessions and should be on firing form. Catch them at the Terry O’Toole Theatre, Lincoln on 24 January; Hidden Rooms Cambridge 25 Jan; Pizza Express Jazz Club, London on 4 February; Seven Arts, Leeds, 7 February; and Millennium Hall, Sheffield, on 8 February. Naim say they’re aiming for an August album release.

Stephen Graham

Nathaniel Facey, pictured with Shane Alessio, at the 606, London, above

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The line-up for next month’s 12 Points festival in Dublin has been announced. The bands, with related links are: OKO from Ireland http://breakingtunes.com/oko ; Sarah Buechi’s THALi from Switzerland http://www.sarahbuechi.com/pages/projects.html ; the Enrico Zanisi Trio from Italy http://www.enricozanisi.com ; Nikolas Anadolis from Greece http://nikolasjazz.com ; Cactus Truck from the Netherlands http://cactustruck.com ; Hanna Paulsberg Concept from Norway https://soundcloud.com/hannapaulsberg ; Mopo from Finland https://soundcloud.com/mopomopo ; Soil Collectors from Sweden https://soundcloud.com/soilcollectors ; Koenig Leopold from Austria http://www.koenigleopold.at/main.html ; Ozma from France http://ozma.free.fr ; Manchester’s Beats & Pieces Big Band from the UK http://beatsnpieces.net ; and the Olivia Trummer Trio from Germany http://www.oliviatrummer.de

Irish band OKO are on home territory this year after the festival’s trip to Portugal last year. This fairly new four-piece avant-folktronica band is on the radar of Matt Jacobsen’s Diatribe label, with a debut expected soon.

Swiss artist, singer Sarah Buechi’s quintet THALi, by contrast draws in world music flavours and particularly south Indian sounds to their jazz mantle inspired partly by Buechi’s studies in Bangalore.

The Italian band coming to 12 Points is a romantic piano trio, led by the multi-award winning pianist Enrico Zanisi, whose album Quasi Troppo Serio (‘Almost Too Serious’) has been issued to no small acclaim by leading Italian jazz indie label Egea.

Greek pianist Nikolas Anadolis, from the beautiful northern city of Thessaloniki, is another keyboards high flier, a player who won the Martial Solal piano competition in Paris two years ago, while Amsterdam sax/guitar/drums trio Cactus Truck, not long back from a tour of the States, should shake things up with their rumbustious free jazz and noisenik flavours.

The sax-led Norwegian band Hanna Paulsberg Concept only came together in 2010 but picked up a major accolade the following year by winning the Young Nordic Jazz Comets in Stockholm, the contest kudos always a strong indicator of a band on the rise. Their dreamy debut is called Waltz for Lilli.

Finns Mopo are another trio, this time with a quirky baritone saxophone attack and requisite free thinking attitude. Only around since 2009 they have a distinctive approach that could well make them ones to watch closely this year.

Another big hope is Swedish alternative impro-rock band Soil Collectors who have already toured widely, combining as they do in somewhat mysterious fashion, voice, electronica, and percussion to captivating effect, their signature sound infused with a Nordic sense of noir and littered with found sounds, one that is both vogueish, and also winningly atmospheric.

Austrian jokers-in-the-pack Koenig Leopold (taking their names from the surname of the band’s Lukas König, and part of bandmate Leo Riegler’s first name), summons dada, Zappa, and Monty Python with spectacular results served up over some characteristically reheated energy-laden beats.

French four piece prog jazz outfit Ozma are also strongly fancied for the festival, with guitarist Adrien Dennefeld already known on the London scene for his work joining forces with Kit Downes in the “shuttle" band Barbacana and his quintet. In Ozma Dennefeld is with saxophonist David Florsche, electric bassist Edouard Séro-Guillaume and drummer Stéphane Scharlé, and Ozma released their album Peacemaker just last year.

The UK’s Beats & Pieces need little introduction to close followers of all things jazz over the last two years. Simply Ben Cottrell’s Mancunians have become the Loose Tubes of the current scene, so their appearance following the success of World Service Project last year will be keenly gauged at 12 Points in 2013.

And finally Stuttgart pianist and vocalist Olivia Trummer comes to Dublin with her trio, a chance for the Irish audience to sample this seasoned classically-influenced musician who already has a strong collection of work as a recording artist.

Taking place at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from 13-16 February the festival has built a hard won reputation as the key early adopter’s new band showcase of choice, with a broad range of the best progressive jazz talent from across the continent. This year’s crop of bands promises to build further on past accomplishments. SG

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