THE THIRD release from GoGo Penguin sees a move from indie label Gondwana Records to legendary Blue Note Records – quite a distinction for the three music graduates from Manchester and Leeds whose recording debut was announced by 2012 album Fanfares.
The rise and rise of Rob Turner (drums), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Chris Illingworth (piano) has been gratifying to follow – and their adoption of a wacky band name (rather than a standard jazz trio moniker) indicated, early on, a firm intent to resist being pigeonholed, but rather focus on a pathway which might lead to their own, distinctive promised land. Well, they’ve certainly arrived, as confirmed by enthusiastic fans at their pulsating sell-out gigs, with an international reach across Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Korea… and not forgetting their home cities.
2014’s v2.0 quite understandably created huge cross-genre and social media waves of appreciation for its earth-shattering grooves and levitational, misty fronds of serenity (a contrast which can be pretty mind-blowing, especially live); and their phantasmogoria of club- and electronica-style grooves has inspired many a re-mix artist, including the great Matthew Herbert. Attracted to “a fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation”, the ten tracks of Man Made Object find the band constructing further largely analogue compositions with imaginative twists, many of which were originally devised through sequencing software (astoundingly, one clever detail from the second album was produced by a) recording a particular section of a track live in the studio and burning it to disc; b) then scratching the hell out of its surface; c) playing back the resultant disjointed, stuttering effect; and d) painstakingly copying this in rehearsal to achieve a convincing acoustic imitation!).
So, if you’ve never gogoed with a penguin – what to expect? Galaxies away from a conventional piano trio, minimalist atmospherics and thundering, rasping rhythms are fused organically and equally between the three players, as in opening track All Res, whose simple high piano melodies and beguilingly tricky left-hand ostinati enhance the bulging drum’n’bass mesmerism. The whirling-dervish rapidity of Rob Turner’s percussion in Weird Cat (his precise velocity has to be seen to be believed) underpins a piano tune built from an off-the-cuff recording he made one night of a wailing moggy; and Quiet Mind even offers a catchy pop lick redolent of OMD or Keane, yet also possesses a musical integrity and energy to draw the attention of movie directors (as might GBYFISYSIH with its calming, almost Gaelic folk lilt, or the transcendental majesty of Surrender to Mountain).
This is not the jazz (or whichever category you might struggle to pin on the guys) of solo extemporisation or be-bop swing, yet the impertinent piano riff, groove-skipping and elegant bassline oasis all found within Unspeakable World suggest a respect for the tradition and, importantly, a desire to push it positively into the future, without barriers. Indeed, Protest (the album’s urgent closer) is driven by Nick Blacka’s muscly bass and Rob Turner’s impossibly complex rhythms into thrash rock territory; and the prepared piano in Initiate might suggest a koto-like Eastern influence, yet with a pervading overdriven-guitar-style edginess.
In one sense, Man Made Object doesn’t make the obvious developmental leap evidenced between albums one and two; and it will be interesting to see where GoGo Penguin’s multi-album deal with Blue Note takes them next. But it does confirm that the trio have determinedly carved out their own sound (originally from eclectic influences including e.s.t.), honing and consolidating a powerful, virtually-acoustic sub-genre (seemingly of their own) – and prompted admiration on a global scale! If that’s not a success story……
Released on 5 February 2016, the album is available from various online music services and record stores.
Rob Turner drums
Nick Blacka double bass
Chris Illingworth piano
Blue Note Records (2016)