Jazz is taken to the streets literally this week in the heart of London. The band Empirical have embarked on a project of pop up jazz sessions, designed to bring the music direct to Londoners with a series of lunchtime and evening commuter sets in a retail unit at Old Street station.
Empirical’s press release says “listeners are invited to visit the lounge for lunchtime and evening commute live sets, with late night sessions scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Early birds will also be able to catch an 8am mid-week performance; all gigs are free of charge.” It is not a novel idea by any means but it is definitely a marvellous one, what better way to get people into jazz than taking it straight to them (as we say in tennis) in one of the busiest spots in London. Old Street is one stop from Moorgate in the City of London, whilst bordering Hoxton, Islington and Hackney where so much of what is vibrant about London is happening. It is also a great opportunity to sell CDs, hand out posters and promote jazz. Empirical also had a book open where people could leave messages of their experience at the performances.
And what was performed was real jazz, not a watered down or easy listening version, what Empirical is really about, inviting people to get into deep meaningful stuff, which is rare to see in this age of watered down music to be populous; this is not exclusive to jazz, this “watering down” of music is happening in pop music as well which all know.
You also don’t know who will get hooked for life from this experience but some people will. In the summer of 1992 Canary Wharf opened for the first time and to celebrate they had a series of concerts and events. One event was John Scofied who played with his band for free in the auditorium. The band included Joe Lovano, Bill Stewart and the late Dennis Irwin on bass. Needless to say the auditorium was packed; my younger brother who was still at school went along and became a lifelong Scofield fan. Empirical can have the same effect; they are inviting schools from Hackney and Islington to free educational workshops and live performances. Empirical are clearly used to getting things done themselves, before the performance they were busy putting everything together including the arrangement of the room and the plastic chairs! Clearly an entrepreneurial spirit.
As for the music, it is a mixture of old and new, with a nod to past masters like Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson with a modern twist, there is a lot of improvisation but at the same time the grooves are strong to have you tapping your feet, it is not aimless improvisation in any way. One thing that really impressed me was the sound; the best live sound I have heard for some time, the quality was real high fidelity, as if listening to a very expensive hi-fi set up such as Linn or Naim in your living room.
Empirical comprise of Nathaniel Facey on alto saxophone, Shaney Forbes on drums, Lewis Wright on vibes and Tom Farmer on bass. Their latest album is called Connection and will be released early March. Before the performance on Wednesday afternoon, I quickly interviewed Tom Farmer which you can listen to below.