Empirical, Purcell Room – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018


It was a phenomenal start to the EFG Jazz Festival in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre. Empirical returned to the festival for the first time in two years, and it was indeed an honour to experience their performance.

With the release of their new EP, Indifference Culture, the ‘cool’ contemporary quartet were able to flawlessly dictate their views on societal ills without uttering a word during their songs.
Considering the intimacy of their music, the Purcell Room did not accurately convey this. However, their ability to communicate such important messages with smoothness, rawness, and ease felt within the title track, was astounding. Nathaniel Facey (alto sax) and Shaney Forbes (drums) both embodied a unique swagger that added to the already captivating performance. They all complemented each other perfectly, but allowed time for each to shine.

The audience reception was slightly lacklustre during the first half of their performance, especially with such impassioned songs being performed. However, this picked up quickly during the second half as the audience finally loosened up and interacted with the band.

The contrast between the different tracks on their EP such as ‘Non-Verbal Language’, which was filled with hypnotising fury and passion, was matched by intense red lighting. However, tracks such as ‘Persephone’ and ‘Celestial Being’, which heavily featured Lewis Wright on the vibraphone, were calmer, more melancholic, with a twinge of noir and an 1980s soul ballad.

‘No Service’ by bassist Tom Farmer, accurately conveyed the feelings associated with not having a mobile phone on you in such a technology-reliant society. It was almost comical. The sheer anxiety and sense of impending doom replicated by a booming double bass, comparable to having no signal. It was brilliant to see a return to more political or protest jazz, we definitely need it right now.

Audrey Owusu