GoGo Penguin

GoGo Penguin


It was emphatically recommended that I see this electro-jazz band live. I like their recent album Man Made Object but was a bit meh about seeing them perform. How wrong I was. And how glad I am that I allowed this enthusiasm to lead me to The Ritz on a day of politics that plunged the thinking man into a pit of hopelessness.

GoGo Penguin, Manchester’s very own contemporary jazz trio comprise of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner. They are among a wave of young musicians making jazz a little more accessible by mixing sounds that give it an edge of electronica or drum and bass. They draw on style mixes like Aphex Twin’s offbeat production or Massive Attack’s use of classical music. It’s just very cool.  They have already enjoyed recognition from a Mercury Music Prize nomination and their sell out venues have grown and grown.

So here they are now. ‘All Res’ starts in darkness, shards of light and a piano-led intro. I have immediately created a snowy filmscape in my head and there is not a sound or a movement from the audience; the drums, a quick snare and a slow driving double bass. It’s gorgeous. It is exactly what we all need to hear to restore calm. The spell is not broken as they move on to ‘Unspeakable World’, opening with dancing piano chords and a bass solo that reunites us with their jazz roots.

It’s funny how the lack of vocals mean you are transfixed instead by the instruments and the skill. The drummer in particular is the multi-tasker, the bassist very commanding and the pianist, face hidden, but whose melodies stand out the most.

As early as song three, ‘Komooka,’ I am listening with my eyes closed, head moving in time. A jazz trance. It is gentle and meandering with softer quick beats of the drummer. Nick Blacka the bassist, centre stage, with the presence of the lead figure shares, “we’re here to forget America and play some music”.

‘Break’ is even more stripped back. There is fair song distribution between the three musicians. There isn’t an overwhelming use of the electro sound in this track, preferring instead to stick to the simplicity of each instrument as they take a solo one by one. A spectacular double bass solo takes off to crowd cheers, the drummer ramping up the speed and volume.  This song builds and builds until people are actually moving their feet off the floor to almost dance.

‘Murmuration’ is the introductory track to their second album V2.0. We are lulled back into the slow tempo, eyes closed, as if you are the only one in the room – an audience of one. The melody of the piano simmers it down further.

‘Branches Break,’ their top track from the new album is an exquisite blend of large drumbeats and piano melody swing. Some time passes and I’m not sure where the breaks in the songs have been and gone, such is the lure of this room until ‘Protest’, which opens with sirens and plucked bass strings with its darker, strong thumping piano chords. Angry jazz. Metal jazz. They end on ‘Garden Dog Barbeque’, which is more of the frantic jazz piano you’re probably familiar with, the quick snare is back and the plucked double bass strings.

After a short while and some polite cheers, they return for the gentle, piano-lead encore ‘Hopopono’ There has been one tempo here this evening and its thoroughly soothing and restful. I am usually the first at the door with my coat on by the encore, but not tonight. Tonight I want to stay here fixed to this spot for a bit longer but instead we have to rejoin the real world. Goodnight GoGo Penguin.

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