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TERRY GROSS, host:

The young English quartet Empirical has been scooping up jazz awards in the UK, and our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead thinks their new second album might be their breakthrough in the states, and not just because it honors one of their American heroes.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: The English band Empirical playing "Hat and Beard" by Eric Dolphy, a patron saint of the 1960s avant-garde. Like his colleagues Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, Dolphy could blur the lines between traditional and exploratory jazz. In hipster parlance, he played both inside and outside.

Empirical play two Dolphy tunes on their album dedicated to him "Out 'n' In." Here's one of their originals, Nathaniel Facey's "So He Left."

(Soundbite of song, "So He Left")

WHITEHEAD: Empirical's new CD is less about reviving Eric Dolphy's music than recapturing the spirit of his 1964 masterwork work, "Out to Lunch!" That album has the same quirky rhythm lineup this quartet has: bass and drums, plus vibraphone instead of piano. That creates a different kind of backdrop for Nathaniel Facey's alto sax.

(Soundbite of song, "So He Left")

WHITEHEAD: Lewis Wright on vibes and Shaney Forbes on drums, twisting and a turning.

Empirical performs an extreme version of jazz's everyday miracle. They play mostly spontaneous, constantly mutating parts, that fit together like clockwork. Close listening is the key. The middle part of the song "Syndicalism," by bassist Tom Farmer, lacks the typical markers of swing rhythm. There's no walking bass or pulsing ride cymbals. But all the players contribute to the catlike prowling, including guest Julian Siegel on tenor sax.

(Soundbite of song, "So He Left")

WHITEHEAD: The band Empirical takes what they learned from Eric Dolphy and make it their own. If jazz often seems preoccupied with its own past, it does have a way of reinventing itself out of its root materials. Nowadays, bands get praised for evoking the '60s like it's the 1980s all over again. But even revivalism ain't what it used to be. The '80s version was partly an attempt to write problematic music out of jazz history. New revivalists like Empirical are writing that outside stuff back in.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He reviewed "Out 'n' In" the new album by the British band Empirical.

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GROSS: You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site at freshair.npr.org. And you can follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook at nprfreshair.

I'm Terry Gross.

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GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, the political battle over how to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other alleged terrorists. We talk with Jane Mayer who covers politics and national security for "The New Yorker." Her current article "The Trial," is about how Attorney General Eric Holder's choice of a civilian trial for the architect of 9-11 has galvanized Republicans.

Join us.

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