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Album Review

GoGo Penguin: GoGo Penguin

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GoGo Penguin: GoGo Penguin
Calling GoGo Penguin a jazz group is sort of like calling Canada a big snowy place. Nobody would consider such a simple term adequate to describe the trio today, least of all the members themselves—bassist Nick Blacka explains that with album number five, GGP has "finally come to accept that we really just aren't a jazz band ... That has been really liberating and freeing for all of us." If anything, it's surprising that these three might have ever felt so constrained by the term before.

This is a mix that's crossed flavors of minimalism, pop-rock, musique concrète and techno (among much else) from the start. They had already stepped more than halfway out of the familiar piano-trio mold by the time of their sophomore breakthrough V2.0 (Gondwana, 2014). Jazz listeners can certainly appreciate the exploration and spontaneity that are such vital components of the mix, just as those into rave/electronica can get lost in the addicting trance grooves and sonic texturing (still made through almost entirely acoustic means, however often it may sound otherwise). These tracks are partly smart compositions and partly impressionistic sound pieces, unconcerned with genre yet happily appealing to ears of all kinds.

As self-titled recordings often do, GoGo Penguin serves as a defining statement and a summary of the band's spectrum of sounds to date. The melodicism and irresistible rhythms are in full force here, while the skillful sound-sculpting decoration has even more subtle detail than ever, starting straight from the gate with a rustling percussive nature-scape under Chris Illingworth's hovering piano intro. The tone of Rob Turner's infectious grooving percussion is tweaked with found objects and props at every turn, while Blacka isn't averse to adding percussive bass thumps or making a ghostly background with bowed strings.

The lead single "Atomised" clatters over acid breakbeats and cinematic tumbling chords before cutting off with a mock-techno-glitch breakdown coda executed in real time. "Kora" emulates the plinking sound of the titular African harp with judicious muting of the piano strings, then sets it to a crazily precise ping-ponging pattern over Turner's semi-hypnotic tribal trance, followed by a bouncy whitewater ride as "Totem" crashes and roils. Their playing crackles with fun energy and telepathic chemistry throughout, while the imagination on display suggests that this closing chapter of their career is still a prelude to further delights. Call it anything you like; GGP's variety of not-jazz remains endlessly thrilling and one of a kind.

Track Listing

1#; Atomised; Signal in the Noise; Open; F Maj Pixie; Kora; Totem; Embers; To the Nth; Don't Go.

Personnel

GoGo Penguin: band/orchestra; Chris Illingworth: piano; Nick Blacka: bass; Rob Turner: drums.

Album information

Title: GoGo Penguin | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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