This is an album that will please old fans and delight newcomers to the sound of Empirical.

Whirlwind Recordings WR4820

Nathaniel Facey (alto saxophone); Tom Farmer (double bass); Shaney Forbes (drums); Lewis Wright (vibraphone); special guests Jason Rebello (piano); Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone)

Recorded RAK Studios, London 21-22 December 2022

This quartet was founded in 2007, although the current line-up was formed the following year. Since then, the band has racked up an impressive collection of awards (including Best Ensemble at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards twice).

It’s also renowned for putting on pop-up jazz events in places such as Old Street tube station in central London, and shopping centres.

This latest album sees the band’s line-up augmented by a couple of musicians: keyboardist Jason Rebello, whose cv includes Wayne Shorter, Jeff Beck and Sting, and the rising star of British jazz, tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock.

In the case of these two additional players, the sum is greater than the parts and they bring much to the table in terms of tones, colour, harmony and solo performance.  Jason Rebello appears on six of the seven tunes, and Alex Hitchcock on three. Bassist Tom Farmer composed five tunes, with Facey and Wright writing one apiece.

The two saxophonists complement each other well on the trio of tunes featuring both of them, including the opener ‘The Naitoku’, with its atmospheric rubato opening consisting of dark piano chords, gentle vibraphone, splashing cymbals and tumbling percussion. Facey and Hitchcock harmonise, double-up and call and respond with finesse. The ballad ‘True Cost’ has a sparse, fragile sound and good interplay between the two saxophones.

In the final minute, Forbes kicks in with a pounding drum beat and the saxes double up on the closing theme. Hitchcock’s final appearance on the uptempo and punningly titled ‘Ursa, The Minor Major Bear’ (the only track not featuring Rebello) is a triumph as the two woodwind players deliver powerful and fluent solos – the seamless handover from Facey to Hitchcock at 2:43 is superb.

On the pretty tune ‘She Moves’ (a ballad with a waltz-like feel), Wright enters with a doorbell intro on vibraphone and Facey plays sweet, tender lines on alto. Rebello and Wright also have solo spots. Saha World’ is a lovely ballad duet between piano and vibraphone with a classical feel. By contrast, the dramatic ‘As The Eagle’ is awash with crashing cymbals and pounding piano chords, and topped with a formidable solo from Facey (at one point, you can hear his sharp intake of breath).

The album ends on an uplifting note with the aptly-named title track. The band coalesce around the tune’s joyous theme, and the coda includes arco bass, shimmering piano chords and tinkling vibraphone to create a stunning soundscape. This is an album that will please old fans and delight newcomers to the sound of Empirical.