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