‘Man Made Object’ – GoGo Penguin


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)

‘v2.0’ – GoGo Penguin


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
Nick Blacka double bass
Rob Turner drums

Live gigs:
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)