Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial


One of the most promising new jazz groups from the United Kingdom, Empirical shows a great deal of potential. Jay Phelps is the group’s trumpeter, being born in Vancouver and moving to London when he was 17. Completing a degree at Trinity College of Music, he has worked with Andrew Hill, George Benson, Courtney Pine and Gerrard Presencer. Altoist Nathaniel Facey has a degree from London’s Royal Academy of Music and has worked in settings ranging from gospel to Afrobeat including stints with Soweto Kinch and Jean Toussaint. Pianist Kit Downes is studying at the Royal Academy of Music and has gigged with Prescencer, Joe Locke, Stan Sulzman and others in addition to leading Troyka. Bassist Tom “Tillah” Farmer started out studying piano, switching to electric bass when he was 16, eventually doubling on acoustic bass.

He has played with the Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, the NYJQ, the Heritage Orchestra and Lazenby. Drummer Shaney Forbes, who attends Trinity College of Music, has performed with Jean Toussaint, Claire Martin and Soweto Kinch. Empirical, who won the European Jazz Competition at the North Sea Jazz Festival is said to be a combination of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with the music and styles of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Ali Farka Touré and Steve Coleman, along with hints of hip-hop. Although tied to the tradition, Empirical features a great deal of original music that, when combined with their youthful energy, strong musicianship and fresh ideas, makes them an important group for jazz’s future.