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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Sunday, 27 May 2018 16:28

GoGo Penguin - A Humdrum Star

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Definite excitement from the raw energy.

“Oh, you liked “….”? Then you should listen to GoGo Penguin!”  This came from a few trusted friends, independently of each other (also, annoyingly, from Amazon recommendations).  So it was with great eagerness and anticipation that I took this opportunity to review their latest album, A Humdrum Star.

GoGo Penguin are: Chris Illingworth (piano / keyboards), Nick Blacka (double-bass) and Rob Turner (drums).

Prayer opens the album with a simple piano note repeat (which continues throughout the track like a drone).  Over this, a second piano line introduces a simple progressive theme.  The sound builds dramatically as members join in and additional electronic lines are added to produce a sepulchral sound-wall.  Raven follows with striking piano chords, heavily echoed.  Bass sets up a morse-like counter beat and drums join to raise the tempo to racing frenzy.

With a few isolated notes on bass introduces Bardo.  Illingworth lays down a keyboard repeat and overlays rhythmic piano melody.  Turner joins to syncopate the piece while Blacka’s strumming adds focal interest to this trance crossover.

Tranquil by comparison, A Hundred Moons is rhythmic still, but eschewing the chordal attack that predominates most other pieces in favour of a simpler melody and counter melody from piano and bass.  Strid is an absorbing piece with close interplay, almost a duet, between piano and bass; the middle-eight bass solo leads the second half in a new melodic direction.  Transient State is another full-on energetic rampage; the frenetic piano line reminding me of some Neil Cowley workings.

The flowing piano of Return to Text laps like waves on a shore; quietening to accommodate a warm bass solo, which builds dynamically again.  In Reactor, terse phrases build tension through various sections to the climax; the wonderfully eerie bowed bass adding déjà vu like reminiscence of some Dan Berglund playing (Esbjorn Svennson Trio).  The piano line twinkles stream-like through Window, providing a gentle culmination to the album.

A Humdrum Star is the fourth album from this Mancunian band (last album, A Man Made Object, reviewed here)

GoGo Penguin blend genres such as house, techno and trance (forms I don’t particularly link with myself) with an undeniably jazzy feel, and once I got over any preconception of what I thought I was listening to, recognized that I was enjoying the music for GGP in their own element!

Comparisons?  Esbjorn Svennson Trio?  Neil Cowley Trio?  Echoes of both certainly, in ambience and energy, though GGP have opted for less edgy / progressive pieces in favour of a more rhythmic and accessible format, that probably has appeal to a wider audience. 

Were my friends right?  Don’t expect any direct extension of the aforementioned bands but in consideration of the raw exhilaration exhibited, a resounding yes – definitely worth a listen to make up your own minds!


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