Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

10

GoGo Penguin: Just Another Band From The Small Blue Planet

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
We’re very proud to be part of a world famous jazz label with such a huge legacy. However, Blue Note is looking to the future and they were very aware that jazz is only one of our influences... —GoGo Penguin's bassist, Nick Blacka
"Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star in a lost galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."

This somewhat gloomy prognosis might sound like a line straight from Douglas Adam's surrealistic comic novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Pan Books, 1979). In actual fact, it's a quotation by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Curiously, it provided the inspiration for the title of GoGo Penguin's fourth album, A Humdrum Star (Blue Note Records, 2018), although it's safe to say that there's been absolutely nothing humdrum about the Manchester's trio's trajectory since blast-off in 2012.

Reviewing the trio's vibrant debut, Fanfare (Gondwana Records, 2012), The Guardian's esteemed jazz critic John Fordham noted the potential influences of piano trios such as Esbjorn Svensson Trio, The Bad Plus and Neil Cowley, but also observed: "it's obvious why the Manchester clubs are jumping to this band." For despite the contemporary jazz trio alignment—or at least the perception as such by most jazz critics—GoGo Penguin has inhabited, from the very outset, a sonic universe where—alongside jazz—dance-floor beats, classical romanticism, ambient vibes, indie-rock and minimalism are all sister moons orbiting the same planet.

"There are obviously jazz elements in there but we don't see ourselves as an out and out jazz band. We've never actually said that we were a jazz band at any point," says bassist Nick Blacka a little ruefully. Blacka, who replaced orignal bassist Grant Russell in time for GoGo Penguin's Mercury Prize-nominated v2.0 (Gondwana Records, 2014), studied jazz at Leeds College and has firm roots in the tradition. "I spent a lot of time listening to jazz, all the great bass players like Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, [Charles] Mingus and Christian McBride."

Co-founders pianist Chris Illingworth and drummer Rob Turner met at the Conservatoire of Manchester's Royal College of Music. It's no surprise therefore that jazz and classical music are both significant elements of GoGo Penguin's sound. They are, however, but two colors in the trio's sonic palette. "Actually, we seem to find most common ground in electronica." says Blacka.

"We're all into Massive Attack, Aphex Twin, Jon Hopkins and the processes involved," adds Turner, who also acknowledges Squarepusher as a formative influence. A little of all these influences, to greater or lesser degree, are to be found on A Humdrum Star, the second release of a three-album deal with Blue Note Records. It is, perhaps, GoGo Penguin's most personal statement to date. "With this album we tried to approach it as organically as we could," explains Blacka, "so even if there are effects on the album we tried to generate them from the three instruments rather than using tons of studio effects."

Much of the creative process for A Humdrum Star involved the collective development of sketches written by Turner on DJ/producer tech such as Logic and Ableton, but the time-honored method of writing at the piano and bass was equally important. Effects, where employed, included chains and a tape measure to dampen strings. "As with all the early sketches and ideas we always develop the track together as a group," says Blacka. "It's important that everyone brings their own individuality and contribution to the music."

Even for the modern incarnation of Blue Note Records, which embraces a fairly broad sample of jazz styles and related music, GoGo Penguin arguably represents a slightly left-field signing. The label, thankfully, has signed the band on its own musical terms. "It certainly hasn't changed our direction and what we want to do," says Blacka of the relationship with Blue Note Records.

"We're very proud to be part of a world famous jazz label with such a huge legacy," Blacka continues. "However, Blue Note is looking to the future and they were very aware that jazz is only one of our influences when we signed with them. Blue Note has been very supportive and encouraging of us being more experimental and incorporating other influences outside of jazz in our music."

"It's mind-blowing," says Illingworth. "You don't get many Manchester bands getting signed to Blue Note. We have to make sure that the priority is just making our music and the guys in Blue Note keep supporting that."

Another major element of GoGo Penguin's equation is the input of sound engineer Joe Reiser, often credited by Illingworth, Blacka and Turner as the fourth member of the group. "Joe makes playlists of stuff we've never heard of," says Turner. "He's always sharing new music."

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

CD/LP/Track Review
Interviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Best of / Year End
CD/LP/Track Review
Extended Analysis
Live Reviews
Extended Analysis
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
A Humdrum Star

A Humdrum Star

Blue Note Records
2018

buy
Man Made Object

Man Made Object

Blue Note Records
2017

buy
Man Made Object

Man Made Object

Blue Note Records
2016

buy
GoGo Penguin: Man Made Object

GoGo Penguin: Man...

Blue Note Records
2016

buy
GoGo Penguin: v2.0

GoGo Penguin: v2.0

Gondwana Records
2014

buy
v2.0

v2.0

Gondwana Records
2014

buy
Date Detail Price
Feb16Sat
19:30
GoGo Penguin
National Concert Hall
Dublin, Ireland
Feb24Sun
00:00
GoGo Penguin (UK)
Vinterjazz
Copenhagen, Denmark
€220 DKK

Related Articles

Read Michael League: Snarky Puppy's Jazz-Schooled, Grassroots Visionary Interviews
Michael League: Snarky Puppy's Jazz-Schooled,...
by Mike Jacobs
Published: December 10, 2018
Read Conor Murray & Micheal Murray: Putting Falcarragh On The Jazz Map Interviews
Conor Murray & Micheal Murray: Putting Falcarragh On...
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 29, 2018
Read Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist Interviews
Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist
by Mark Corroto
Published: November 28, 2018
Read Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller Interviews
Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: November 27, 2018
Read Phillip Johnston: Back From Down Under Interviews
Phillip Johnston: Back From Down Under
by Ken Dryden
Published: November 27, 2018
Read Anwar Robinson: From American Idol To United Palace Interviews
Anwar Robinson: From American Idol To United Palace
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: November 25, 2018
Read "Jay Thomas: We Always Knew" Interviews Jay Thomas: We Always Knew
by Paul Rauch
Published: November 16, 2018
Read "Vuma Levin: Musical Painting" Interviews Vuma Levin: Musical Painting
by Seton Hawkins
Published: May 8, 2018
Read "Dafnis Prieto: Cross-Cultural Mix" Interviews Dafnis Prieto: Cross-Cultural Mix
by Angelo Leonardi
Published: March 13, 2018
Read "Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller" Interviews Kris Funn: Bass Player, Story Teller
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: November 27, 2018
Read "Dan Monaghan: The Man Behind The Swing" Interviews Dan Monaghan: The Man Behind The Swing
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: February 16, 2018