Jason Rebello with Empirical bring fireworks to the Wiltshire Music Centre

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There were a few sharp suits on stage at the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday. If anyone thought that meant it was going to be a solemn evening, the look on pianist Jason Rebello’s face was more ‘kid let loose in a sweet shop’ after the first scorching solo from Empirical’s alto man Nathaniel Facey. Rebello’s career went into orbit 25 years ago touring with Wayne Shorter, then saw him replace Kenny Kirkland in Sting’s band and subsequently tour relentlessly with Jeff Beck. Empirical have maintained their status as one of the hottest, most adventurous young jazz groups in the UK and Europe for nearly a decade now. The pianist’s decision to make the one off collaboration his inaugural gig of a year long artist-in-residence stint at the newly re-furbished Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, brought a near capacity crowd out and they were thrilled by the fireworks it produced.

It was a varied programme starting with that blistering take on ‘Whole in One’ from Rebello’s 1999 release Next Time Around. There was a sharing of back catalogues as Empirical dusted off tunes from their last album to feature a piano, Elements of Truth. ‘Ying and Yang’andCosmos (for Carl Sagan)’ evoked different moods, making the most of the moody wow of the vibes combining with chiming chords from the piano. There was more from Next Time Around including another burner to finish, ‘Justin Time’.

In between there were some delightful duos. Piano and alto on ‘Soul Eyes’hadNathaniel Facey evoking the spirit of Coltrane at his most tender. Vibes and piano on Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ raised the roof, Rebello laying down a viscerally exciting funky gospel tinged groove driving Lewis Wright onto another dazzling solo. Despite a streaming cold, he nearly stole the show a few times.

It was the evident delight of Rebello and Empirical in each other’s company that lifted this beyond what was always a sure fire jazz feast. Empirical found themselves grooving deliciously on Herbie Hancock’s Chan’ Song and etching out a lyrical flowing melody on Rebello’s own Closeness. Jason found himself in the middle of a dense tumult on Empirical’s ‘In the Grill’ and pulling out a wildly inventive solo on bass man Tom Farmer’s zany piece ‘Card Clash’. The grin on drummer Shaney Forbes’ face barely dimmed all evening. He had one of the moments of the evening with a ghostly drum solo using hot rods on ‘Ying and Yang’.

 This was a reminder, if we needed it, of the world beating quality of the UK scene and a mouth watering start to the programme at the Wiltshire Music Centre. The next in the series is a duo with Ola Onabule in November.

– Mike Collins