Thursday, 8 March 2012

Empirical - Elements of Truth

This review can be found at The Yorker, here.

©Empirical; Image Credit: Empirical
Jazz can be a hard genre to get into if you've not grown up with listening to it. Smooth Jazz and Big Band are already somewhat niche interests, but when you get to the experimental side of things, if you're not braced for it, its easy to find yourself turned off. That said, that doesn't mean that experimental jazz is without merit for those who have an understanding of the genre that begin and end at Miles Davis.

Empirical are a British jazz band with two previous albums, the eponymousEmpirical and Out 'n' In. They're big fans of improvisation to their music, andElements of Truth is an album that embraces the idea of hiding the groove in amongst discord. The first track, 'Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say' builds up suspense and a dramatic atmosphere through whisting. My personal experience with artists who jam on the vibraphone is centered around Roy Ayers. They're used here by Lewis Wright in a different, more chaotic way.

The tracks are continuous, so the band bleeds easily into 'Yin & Yang', which demonstrates a common factor among many jazz records - song length. These 9 minutes are not a patch on the 15 or 20-minute behemoths that exist; but they're a lot calmer and performed with more groove than the first track. It still has this brooding air to it; but it's not oppressive - quite the contrary - it reminds me strongly of Detective film Noir, as it may for anyone who's played L.A. Noire.

Skipping ahead a little, 'Cosmos (for Carl Sagan)' stands out as my favourite track, and not just because of the neat dedication. It's smooth and spacey, almost soundscape-like in between main verses.
'An Ambiguous State of Mind' also stands out as being the darkest track of the album. It has a real sense of tension to it, standing out in tone from the rest of the album, but not necessarily by being the loudest or busiest. It inspires an odd feeling; not everyone wants a moody vibe from their music, but it's a nice change from the Soulful Strut side of jazz.

Elements of Truth is definitely not for everyone. If you like your jams experimentation-free, or don't fancy yourself as someone who'd like to sit in a smoky bar with a single malt whisky, then you'll have a hard time loving what Empirical can offer you. But if you're willing to take a plunge, this may very well be your new music to study to, or soundtrack to any after-dark strolls.

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