Coming off their sophomore effort, 2014's Barclaycard Mercury Prize-shortlisted V2.0, GoGo Penguin return with their equally ambitious 2016 follow-up, Man Made Object. A jazz trio at their core, Britain's GoGo Penguin have garnered well-earned plaudits for their distinctive, genre-bending sound that combines elements of forward-thinking post-bop with stylistic elements borrowed from indie rock and electronic dance music -- all without the aid of any actual electronic instrumentation. Showcased in GoGo Penguin are the talents of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner.
In his 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, director Godfrey Reggio sought to explain the relationship between human beings, nature and technology. He presented a gorgeous collage of scenic landscapes and rolling clouds, set against an equally riveting score. The movie said everything it needed without any spoken dialogue, which can be nearly impossible in cinema and music.
It’s just like Dave King of the Bad Plus says on Episode 47 of his YouTube series, Rational Funk (title: “Drummer Jokes”): “Your band sucks ass if your drummer sucks.” He then goes on to riff on some bad drummer jokes, feigning angry about the disrespect. But it’s true: ever since they started spontaneously combusting on Spinal Tap, drummers have been an unnecessarily easy target. This despite the utter and ongoing cruciality of the groove.
Though 2014 Mercury Prize contenders GoGo Penguin are a jazz-schooled trio who now record for Blue Note, they’re a lot more interested in the nuances of groove, and in the contact points between acoustic and machine music, than in jazz as most beboppers know it. This Blue Note debut follows the minimalism-to-maelstrom paths of Fanfares and the more electronic v20, but many of these tracks started life on sequencers and then evolved through real-time group acoustic improv. Chris Illingworth’s looping piano motifs with their casual classical flourishes, Nick Blacka’s bowed bass and Rob Turner’s hustling drums sometimes fuse with a hip equanimity reminiscent of Robert Glasper; Weird Cat and the folksy Initiate show that GoGo tunes don’t have to be sparse; and the captivating Smarra is a highlight for its threading of an echoey, synth-mimicking throb through a humming undertow toward a deluge of cymbals.
You know it’s a good year when there’s not one, but two jazz releases making the rounds outside of jazz circles for the right reasons. We miss great music all the time, and three months into 2016, there’s already subversive hip-hop, classic-rock revival and navel-gazing indie worth catching ….