(The Forge Venue Regents Park, London Jazz Festival, November 21st 2009, review by Geoffrey Winston)
You could really feel the spirit of Dolphy in the air. These guys had absorbed so much from his recordings and gave it back in their own way – uncannily true to the spirit of the landmark sessions of Out to Lunch, yet a fresh, and personal interpretation by each of Empirical’s four members, of the playing and compositions of an exceptional musical pioneer and his co-musicians.
Nathaniel Facey ‘s confidence in taking on the challenge of Dolphy’s leadership on stage was impressive, with both fluent and spikey phrasing and a similar tonal range on alto, carried with an optimism that made you think how the music might have moved forward had tragic circumstances not cut short Dolphy’s creative contribution to the genre. This was borne out by his compositions, A Bitter End for a Tender Giant, poignant and thoughtful, and the complex interplay demanded by Dolphyus Morphyus. The invention in the group’s own compositions created the perfect foil to their vibrant renditions of Dolphy originals, notably the landmark Hat and Beard.
Lewis Wright combined lightness and intensity in his multi-layered flurries of notes on vibes, beautifully acknowledging Bobby Hutcherson’s unique contribution to the flavour of Out to Lunch – a spacious and ethereal atmosphere, complementing the the sharper, tougher tones of the other instruments.
Shaney Forbes and Tom Farmer anchored and structured the group’s performance. Farmer took a more understated role on bass, imposing on solos, Forbes propelled the band with joyous authority and technical flourish. His dexterity was great to watch; in many ways his playing was both a visual and rhythmic focus which had the qualities of invention and discipline which Dolphy’s rich musical legacy demands.
It was a remarkable evening’s music, benefitting, too, from the intimacy and exceptional sound quality at this nice new venue.
The Forge is superb, purpose-built, and offers London’s buzzing jazz and music scene a unique, sophisticated setting. Its contemporary architecture and flexible interior spaces are attractive and feel quite special, offering a good range of options for the visitor.
The auditorium itself, as it was configured on the night, is a cube-like space with seating at stage level and on a gallery around 2 sides of the stage, ensuring that the audience is never further than a few metres from the performers. The combination of a suberb sound mix and the hall’s stunning acoustics made for true listening pleasure.
The ground-floor cafe-bar offers a relaxed setting, and upstairs is the Caponata restaurant for the serious diner. The menus share a fresh Sicilian culinary theme – the pasta dish of the day turned out to be a very good choice, as was the wine!
A rewarding evening in a great new place to hear music.