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Empirical: Connection

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If Empirical’s blend of alto saxophone, vibraphone, bass and drums evokes Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! , the effect isn’t completely coincidental. The group previously paid tribute to the multireedist and his classic session on its sophomore album, Out ‘n’ In. Following collaborations with a string quartet, pianist and bass clarinetist, the British quartet keeps to itself for its fifth release, a set of 11 originals.

Saxophonist Nathaniel Facey might be inspired by Dolphy, but his tart tone indicates a more individual voice. His execution makes all the difference in “Lethe,” elevating the impact of this simple ballad and leading to a beautiful climax. “The Two-Edged Sword” barely gives him room to breathe as he blows extended lines over a rhythm section that seems to stop and start at will.

These kinds of hard pauses appear on several tracks throughout Connection. Bassist Tom Farmer wrote almost half of the album, and his music plays up the band’s strength as an ensemble. The opening moments of several tracks often seem deceptive, in terms of where the downbeats fall. Facey seems to float into a different time signature on “It’s Out of Our Hands,” as the tune’s composer, Lewis Wright, lets his vibes resonate. “The Maze” begins with handclaps and a melody that sounds close to Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” before veering off into free territory toward the end. Throughout the album, Wright proves to be one of the more unique voices on the vibraphone. He creates everything from dreamy tremolos to nimble, quiet lines, all of which pushes the music into unique melodic territory.

Originally Published