THESE ARE EXCITING TIMES for the jazz piano trio – and Manchester-based GoGoPenguin are key movers in a current new wave of line-ups that eschew the traditional idea of pianist leader and supporting rhythmic duo for a totally democratic and, therefore, absorbing concept in sound.
The band’s debut release, ‘Fanfares’ (2012), created considerable ripples of interest on the British scene, as well as much further afield, with their obvious e.s.t.-influenced grooves (confirmed, as Svensson fans would recognise, by the opening track title, ‘Seven Sons of Bjorn’). That tantalising 35-minute recording, hailed by critics, no doubt found a quickly-gathering fan base clamouring for the next chapter, whilst finding the subsequent live experiences every bit as engaging – those present at the band’s hometown gigs at Band On The Wall (that I, too, witnessed) would, I’m sure, be happy to concur.
It’s important to recognise now, though, that GoGo Penguin are not “the next Esbjörn Svensson Trio” (nor could they be, given the Swedish band’s untouchable seminal status) – and I hazard a guess that Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) would see it that way, too. So, what is both gratifying and thrilling about this new follow-up release, ‘v2.0’, is that the trio are already clearly honing a sound which appears to be uniquely theirs, Blacka and Turner providing the distinctive and frequently blistering up-front dance-groove edge. The resultant effect is mesmeric and trance-like (think ‘Aphex Twin’), with such breathtaking precision of metre to almost sound electronic… but with the satisfaction that it’s not! Illingworth, too, displays great mastery of his instrument, exploring the gamut of techniques and expression as well as, at times, seemingly employing Roland Kirk’s ability to ‘split his brain in two’ to state one melody with his right hand and another with his left – rapid electronica or anthemic breadth, his grand piano offers it all.
What better illustration of the band’s sparky originality than Garden Dog Barbecue? – Chris Illingworth’s zippy right-hand piano melodies over grungy, leaping left-hand fifths chords shared with buzzing bass, and all sped along by breakneck skittering drums, plus some terrific rhythmic and tempo changes. Opening track, Murmuration, reveals the trio’s alter ego – beautifully-considered, sustained and repetitive piano against bubbling bass and drums, intensifying in stature with electronically-echoic arco bass until the flocking avian display it suggests disperses to nothingness. Kamaloka brings to the fore Turner’s extraordinarily complex electro/techno drum likeness which drives a bright, arpeggio-accompanied piano tune, as does the following Fort, Blacka’s rasping bass combining so well with drums to its abrupt close. Not since Stefano Bollani’s live solo piano interpretation of a scratched vinyl LP have I heard the skills that are to be found in One Percent; already a compelling, bustling and highly-charged number, the final 45 seconds convincingly simulate, through a variety of closely-timed rhythms, a skipping CD – from an acoustic trio, this is something which has to be heard to be believed, and raises a smile with me every time!
Home‘s infectious groove is again down to the brilliant interaction between Blacka and Turner, laying down a relentless and very listenable ground for Illingworth’s strong piano melodies, and Blacka’s big, scampering bass sound resonating clearly at the close. Recorded in total darkness, The Letter is characterised by a heavy, sprawling and perhaps menacing pulse. To Drown In You continues the darker feel with its hint of Philip Glass piano and ethereal bowed bass… and with what is becoming Turner’s trademark percussive sound, his staccatoed rhythms shared with Blacka’s bass, and the huge energy of Illingworth’s ‘split piano’, this is a standout. The brief, spacial Shock and Awe, against a tense metronome-like tick, carries a palpable weight of emotion and presents another side to the trio – perhaps something for future concepts. Lucid and vibrant, Hopopono closes the album with an impressive summing-up of this band’s evident empathy and, perhaps even, telepathy.
Credit to sound engineers Joe Reiser and Brendan Williams for clarity of production, this release resembles a huge step forward in GoGo Penguin’s development – and the next gig will certainly be something to look forward to (see below). ‘v2.0’ is released by Gondwana Records on 17 March 2014, available from Bandcamp.
Chris Illingworth piano
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums
27 March 2014: Pizza Express Jazz Club – Thump Festival
29 March 2014: Black Box, Belfast – Brilliant Corners Festival
5 April 2014: The Sage, Gateshead – Gateshead International Jazz Festival
Gondwana Records (2014)