wed 24/07/2024

GoGo Penguin, Corn Exchange, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews

GoGo Penguin, Corn Exchange, Brighton

GoGo Penguin, Corn Exchange, Brighton

From Manchester, on Blue Note - British jazz's new stars continue to soar

Remain in light: GoGo Penguin liveImages by Nick Maroudias

It’s a shock to see the Corn Exchange’s hundreds of seats sold out for a jazz piano trio. When I first heard GoGo Penguin two winters ago, it was in an East London basement, where new recruit Nick Blacka’s thunderous double-bass was inspiring a few intrepid dancers to their skittering beats, among a crowd of dozens. Since then, there’s been a Mercury nomination, and a recent three-album deal with America’s gold-standard jazz label, Blue Note, a remarkable achievement for a British band.

It’s when they break from their own successful formula that GoGo Penguin are most interesting

Listening to the youthful crowd around me, it’s word of mouth, not accolades, which has brought them here. Jazz’s ageing audience ghetto has been breached because they’re not sure this is jazz, and neither are the band. Chris Illingworth’s piano, Rob Turner’s drums and Blacka’s double-bass couldn’t be a more traditional set-up; Art Blakey could fit right in behind Turner’s kit. But, just as Blue Note’s classic Fifties and Sixties acts reabsorbed blues, gospel, soul and funk into the hard bop and jazz-soul which remains the music’s most enduring form, so the label’s latest signing naturally express contemporary classical music and electronica as they play.

They are part of a generation more interested in Aphex Twin’s implications for piano improv than Bill Evans’s. And the crowds they’re starting to draw react to their surging riffs as if it’s the cresting club music they plainly reference, while adding jazz’s breathing, improvised pulse. Between sets, fans mingle at the bar with those heading next door to see Squarepusher, an electronica auteur with a jazz mentality. Both played consecutive late-night sets at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. Their crowds are indistinguishable.

“One Percent”, an anthem from GoGo Penguin’s Mercury-nominated second album, v2.0, is played early. Its title references the politics of the Manchester-based band, on the first grim day of five years of unfettered Tories. It follows a pattern adhered to with variations for most of the night. Illingworth or Blacka begin with a low-key, sombre, often classically-based intro. But another wave of accelerating, electronica-style climaxes is always ready to roll in behind. On “Break”, Blacka leads a funk break which he slides into a more Indian sound, while on “Home” he slaps his bass to Harlem tap-dance effect. Illingworth, the most classically-minded of the three, can seem lost in that world even as Turner’s amplified bass-drum thuds House beats. The drummer is more likely to lock with Blacka into tumbling drum & bass, a natural parallel to their schooling in bebop’s fiendishly complex, Forties rhythms. On tracks such as “Last Words”, pastoral acoustic delicacy integrates with urban dance energy.

It’s when they break from their own successful formula that GoGo Penguin are most interesting. Tunes from the Blue Note debut they start recording this month are played, but none yet resemble the slow, swaying strokes of bass and brushes behind the piano introspection of v2.0’s “The Letter”. Its soulfully downbeat mood rests the endless, if intricate, groove.

Gaining in live confidence all the time, GoGo Penguin still look bemused at the shouts for encores, and queues for signed CDs afterwards. Lift-off is happening.

They are part of a generation more interested in Aphex Twin’s implications for piano improv than Bill Evans’s


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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