On their latest CD "Out 'n' In", a compilation inspired by and dedicated to the late Eric Dolphy, the group Empirical put together a collection of nine Dolphy-inspired original compositions and two of Dolphy's compositions: "Hat and Beard" and "Gazzelloni."
Empirical's style can best be described as "post-bop" and their execution can be described as exceptional! I was drawn to the immediate sense of interplay between the individuals within the band. For these sessions they brought in some very special guest, Julian Siegel who's bass clarinet and tenor saxophone playing added significantly to the overall appeal of this collection.
I was thrilled to hear the purity with which these songs were executed. The production is impeccable and for my money one of the finest CDs I have had the privilege of reviewing of late. It doesn't hurt that I am a long-time Dolphy fan and could fully appreciate the textures and dynamics of the compositions that they were going for. The solo taken by Siegel in "Hat and Beard" can best be described as exotic! Nathaniel Facey could be heard providing the push and pull of the solo exchanges and the interplay between them is a real treat.
"A Conversation," a brief but intricate exchange between Facey and Siegel, composed by the two, is a true musical dialogue in the sense that there is an exchange of ideas and energy between them.
Facey proved to be a real treat to listen to on this CD at every turn his technique and the infusion of the Dolphy-esque phrasing and melodic emphasis is the backbone of the tribute. On "So He Left", bassist Tom Falmer is a standout with his solo that is a driving and melodic bit that demonstrates a command of the instrument, as well as the theme of the collection.
In general, the rhythm section of Empirical is worth commenting on. The treatment of anything with a Dolphy influence has to be extremely sensitive to timing and dynamic. It must be fast with out being pressed, it must be energetic without losing its soulfulness. The rhythm section is the key to this and on "Out 'n' In," Falmer and Shaney Forbes provide that energy and preciseness that enables the rest to weave their extravagant stories without losing sight of the underlying message.
"A Bitter End For A Tender Giant" was, for me, a demonstration of the groups true awareness of the depth and beauty of Dolphy's gift. Siegel working with the bow work of Falmer create a somber mood opening the door for the beautiful vibe work of Lewis Wright. Wright provides a color to this piece that is in itself a loving tribute to the subject of this CD. Not since Milt Jackson on "Sunflower" have I been so transformed by the layers of vibraphone tone in composition. A simple but beautiful melody executed with the awareness of the theme of tenderness, and yet full of the giant richness that was Eric Dolphy. I was won over by this Facey composition. The rest of the CD was just icing on the cake at this point.
Some great fun was to be had in between the bars for the rest of these songs. Farmer's composition "Interlude" is tasty piece acting as a prelude to the raucous Dolphy composition "Gazzelloni", which I had to go look up in my collection to remember what it originally sounded like. It didn't matter, Lewis tore it up on the vibes and recreated the moment for me in this version.
Empirical shows a level of maturity in treating the subject of Eric Dolphy that provides the listener with a master's course on the topic of all things Dolphy and at the same time as their group's title implies, learns the language through another level of experimentation.
Another Farmer composition that I enjoyed was "Syndicalism." This cut provided another venue for Siegel and Facey to square off and with the alto stylings of Facey and the bass clarinet work of Siegel get a full appreciation of the possibilities this composition had to offer. Again, the rhythm section, supplemented by the vibe work of Lewis, provide just the right drive to their playing. The two of them mess with the changes and phrasing enough to open it up to all its potential.
"Another Conversation" is just that. Facey and Siegel get personal with this exchange of moods and tones. But it is not until Lewis provides the spirit of the conversation does this get really interesting. The cut is another example of how tight these guys are on this CD. Just a beautiful demonstration of the musical exchange that goes beyond words. I am at a loss to describe the complex feelings exuding from such a simple melody. Like waves of the pulse of two persons so close you cannot separate one from the other, or tell who's heart is beating when. Yes, they are that tight!
Empirical is that kind of ensemble that applies the academic to their execution and then lets the spirit of jazz provide the rest. In this very well executed tribute to the late Eric Dolphy, they remained sensitive to his style and signature approach to melody and dynamic. What is remarkable to me is how they put their own signature on the style, and provided a beautifully energetic and sensitive story in which one can become intimate with Dolphy, even this long after his passing. In jazz, we are all challenged to keep the legacy alive. This is done by reaching into the past and through those compositions finding a direction for the future.
The study of jazz is an empirical science, theory is not enough to fully understand its intricacies. Empirical, in the true sense of the word, brings the listener to the full knowledge of Dolphy, through the experience of his music. Not by mere reproduction, but in the truest sense of the jazz genre, in the experiential knowing of this fine chapter of our art. If you don't know Dolphy, then shame on you. If you don't come to know Empirical, then shame on me, because I highly recommend you do come to know this young and talented group, and their work.