Review: Empirical’s Pop-Up Jazz Lounge, Old Street Underground

Free jazz and the hipster singularity

“I can’t believe it. Free jazz in Old Street tube, how cool is that?”

It’s a relief to hear this kind of thing from passersby, because Empirical’s attempt to bring jazz to the people, to reach new audiences and develop their music through an experimental, week-long residency in a London tube station, could so easily have gone wrong.

When I spoke to bassist Tom Farmer about the project, the MOBO-winners, due to release their fifth album, Connection, in March, seemed well aware of the risks. Commuters might hate it, or worse, keep their heads down and ignore it altogether. (“Don’t make eye contact!”) It seemed touch and go whether the band (jazz night owls to a man) would turn up to one of the performances, scheduled for 8am on a Tuesday, and there was also the distinct possibility that a jazz pop-up might tip Old Street over the edge. Could this postmodern cave of wonders – already crammed full of pop-ups selling pop art, kale juice, vegan energy bars, and spiralised fresh air – cope with jazz, or would Empirical bring about some kind of hipster singularity in which Silicon Roundabout disappears into its own Instagram account and a giant beard ultimately becomes the next Mayor of London?

Happily, it turns out that it can. In fact, on the evidence of Thursday night, the lounge is a roaring success: relaxed and welcoming, not edgy or pretentious, and consistently packed. It looks the part, a narrow space lit by filament lightbulbs and angle-poise lamps, with Empirical album art splashed across the walls. And the audience is as varied as the band had hoped: a few hardcore music fans (you can tell from the earnest nodding), men in suits, tech company types, shoppers and even a few kids. Not the usual jazz club crowd. Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Dan Redding/Empirical

Review: Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Barbican

A landmark meeting that lives up to the hype

Wayne Shorter and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – that sounds like a dream pairing. Shorter, now 82, is one of the true greats, a saxophonist and composer with an enchanting and unpredictable approach that makes him instantly recognisable. He had a defining influence on Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet and on Weather Report and, for many, his current quartet represents the pinnacle of modern small group performance. Under the leadership of Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have come to represent the pinnacle of repertoire big band playing, so this collaborative rummage through Shorter’s back catalogue with arrangements by JLCO members ought to be sublime.

But we’ve been here before, and as we take our seats in Barbican Hall I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a little nervous. Read On…

10 Questions for Jazz Quartet Empirical

Empirical bassist Tom Farmer on musical risk-taking, scientific method and taking jazz to bleary-eyed London commuters

Described by Courtney Pine as “the most exciting jazz band to come out of the UK” and hailed in the press as the new young lions, Empirical broke cover in 2007, topping album of the year charts with their self-titled debut and picking up wins at the prestigious EBU/European Jazz Competition and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award all within a few months.

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