wed 21/02/2018

CD: GoGo Penguin - A Humdrum Star | reviews, news & interviews

CD: GoGo Penguin - A Humdrum Star

CD: GoGo Penguin - A Humdrum Star

Successful Manchester trio's contemporary fusion grows outside the jazz shadow

GoGo, Penguin!

They look like a jazz trio, they’re signed to Miles Davis’s label, and in short passages they make the involved and intimate sound we associate with one of the iconic jazz ensembles. But listen to the riotously popular Manchester contemporary fusion outfit GoGo Penguin for more than 30 seconds and it’s clear this is not spontaneously improvised, intimate harmonic and rhythmic development between individual players.

Yet their musical premise is still an original and highly addictive one, their blend of classical minimalism and dance rhythms sufficiently deft to appeal to fans of both genres, while accessible enough to to entice audiences who might find a uniform diet of either somewhat forbidding. If you want attractively textured soundscapes, arena-filling melodic sweep and itchy beats, GoGo are your go-to band, as increasingly ecstatic global audiences trestify.

The inspirations for this fourth album are curiously random, including the Yorkshire landscape (“Strid”), Shinto spirits (“Transient State”), Caribbean hymns (“A Hundred Moons”), and astrophysics (“A Humdrum Star”). It feels like browsing an Instagram feed, with its hotchpotch of holiday snaps and urban collage.

GoGo PenguinShinto aside, “Transient State” exemplifies what the band does best, the chinking percussion a perfect foil to the gently rolling piano chords and churning bass, sometimes acoustic and delicate, but with an occasional guitar-like snarl of emphasis. “Bardo” has a more ambient character, with tonal variety replaced by dramatic shifts of volume and tempo, while “Strid” is for me the most original, its irresistibly rolling piano chords giving more space for Nick Blacka’s superbly hypnotic bass. Although the band’s basic palette hasn’t changed very noticeably in the past few years, the shape of each piece is much more dramatic than it used to be, and there are driving narrative arcs to some of these new tracks, with tonal variety exploited especially effectively.

If (as I do) you need from your music a sensation of performers’ whitened knuckles and furrowed brows, however, GoGo Penguin can still sound a bit diffuse, perhaps generic. Short sections in “Raven” lose that essential drama. I first saw GoGo Penguin live at the London Jazz Festival in 2013 – the Manchester trio were marketed as a jazz act – alongside the brilliant and original American drummer Jaimeo Brown’s superb Transcendence project. Anyone attending that gig for a jazz fix would have found the trio strangely flat-footed after Brown’s intense dialogue with musical history.

That was then. Now the band’s musical identity, as pioneers of broad-brush contemporary fusion, is established, such unhelpful comparisons are no more. Though there are no surprises on this album, just themes and approaches skilfully extended, that will suit the band’s swelling fanbase just fine. 

@matthewwrighter

If you want attractively textured soundscapes, arena-filling melodic sweep and itchy beats, GoGo are your go-to band

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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They're not signed to Miles' Davis label. he was on Columbia. They are on Blue Note (which is, apart from Miles Davis, the quintessential jazz label, granted.....)

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