Joining the dots between Squarepusher, Sun Ra and Kruder and Dorfmeister, the cosmic future jazz of GoGo Penguin has established the band as a leader of the jazz scene in the UK, not only ‘new school’ jazz, but of jazz as a whole, as a cultural product of UK life, of UK musical expression. So much so that the Mercury Music Prize panel labeled them as “A stirring re-evaluation of what a piano trio should sound like in the 21st century”
The Manchester trio of Rob Turner, Chris Illingworth and Nick Blacka actually do fit the cosy classification of a ‘jazz trio’ as is known and well (over)used in musical terminology. Melody leads music, and the sometimes yearning and sometimes excitable piano led composition of GoGo Penguin can be seen as jazz in the common sense of the word. But, where the band depart from tradition, where they break ground instead of treading well worn paths defines them as a truly original and movement making group of classically trained but genre defining band of jazz musicians who make music that speaks simultaneously to the purists and the uninitiated alike. From the debut album’s title track Fanfares to the drum and bass influenced Garden Dog Barbecue from the album v2.0, the progression is clear and obvious.
A change of personnel from album one to album two has moved GoGo Penguin from a super high quality jazz trio to an in demand genre bending outfit of unpredictability and modernity of now, to a band who are a product of their environment, a crew who are happily and righteously ignorant of their perceived boundaries, who are able to engage and entertain jazz club, festival and club crowds alike.
The UKs BBC6 Music don crossover jazz DJ Jamie Cullum described the band as “a really brilliantly modern piano trio that takes in the whole history of music. I think they're really special." Now that is no mean feat in any genre, never mind one where purists are superquick to shoot down the different and the original as imposters and interlopers.
Jazzwise described them as “belligerently danceable”. It is the respectful but simultaneously irreverent approach to tradition that marks GoGo Penguin out as a band with the huge crossoverability often lacking in jazz outfits, it’s one of the many attractive and unique elements that caused Phoenix Music International’s publishing director Felix Hines (that would be me!) to chase them down over a period of ten months until pen finally graced paper.. Now, as The Quietus says we’ll have the pleasure of being involved as the band “continue to stretch the piano-trio formula into the future”.
My love of GoGo Penguin was truly cemented at a live show in Jazz at Pizza Express in Soho, London, where the crowd was left seriously enraptured by the jungle drumming of Rob Turner and the deft bass of Nick Blacka, woven together by the alternately elegiac and dramatically frantic electronica influenced piano of Chris Illingworth, so much so that no stone was left unturned in our pursuit to sign a band who have created something described by Spotify in the following terms – “Sometimes an album stops you in your tracks. The brilliant jazz-meets-electronica release from this remarkable Mancunian trio, is one of them”.. Listen to The Letter on v2.0 and you will really understand.
Photography by Arlen Connelly