mon 22/07/2024

CD: GoGo Penguin - Man Made Object | reviews, news & interviews

CD: GoGo Penguin - Man Made Object

CD: GoGo Penguin - Man Made Object

Manchester post-jazz trio's Blue Note debut not quite as innovative as they think

Man Made Object: humanely crafted or synthetic?

Penguins tend to be associated with slow and ungainly progress, slithering about in the snow. Yet there’s nothing cumbersome or awkward about the progress Manchester trio GoGo Penguin has made since emerging on the local jazz scene based around Matt and Phred’s club and their friend Matt Hallsall’s label Gondwana Records, which released their first two albums.

In the past year they have broken through with North American audiences, and this, their third album, is not on Gondwana, but – applause – Blue Note. Much more GoGo than Penguin.

The work is well titled. Man Made Object sums up their preoccupations succinctly, explained by pianist Chris Illingworth as an interest in robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation. It’s the relationship between human-acoustic on the one hand and the sounds and techniques of electronic music that moves them. They look like a jazz trio, with Illingworth (who studied classical music) on piano, and Nick Blacka and Rob Turner (both professional jazzers) on bass and drums. They emerged from the Manchester jazz scene, but what they now do is perhaps best described as a kind of acoustic trance, playing electronic loops and floating snatches of melody on acoustic instruments. Illingworth’s classical training can sometimes be heard, not always helpfully, in their floaty, minimalistic piano melodies.

At its worst, it can sound like Billy Joel covering Ulrich Schnauss

It could be an interrogation of the boundaries of form and genre. The danger is that we might get the worst of both worlds: the melodic and rhythmic complexity possible with electronic music is neutered by the limitations of human, acoustic instruments, while the tonal varieties available to acoustic players are flattened by the smooth electronic tunes. Too often, after an opening that flatters with a dark, twitching piano tune or some spiky rhythm, a flavourless piano melody takes over, wafting down over the track like a blanket of snow.

“Unspeakable World” keeps up the rhythmic interest all the way through with some intriguingly knotty interplay between all three instruments, which does reveal their jazz pedigree, while employing the longer melodic phrases of electronic music. Sometimes, though, as on “Initiate” or “Protest”, the bass and drums back off, it begins to sound repetitive, and the sound is not so much groove as rut. There are some great passages of intense rhythmic and melodic interrogation, but the intensity isn’t sustained. At its worst, it can sound like Billy Joel covering Ulrich Schnauss. Man-made, yes, but intelligently crafted, or a bit synthetic?



Well, that was an unnecessarily bitter review.

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