Live Review: GoGo Penguin at Brighton Dome
Brighton Dome Studio Theatre
Saturday 24th May, 2014
In a veritable sea of trumpeted young rising stars, it’s often difficult to distinguish the truly groundbreaking, those who really have something different to bring to the table. Picture then, three men who create the kind of musical synergy together, which bandleader and pianist Chris Illingworth describes as independent of genre, taking jazz and audiences not so familiar with jazz, forward, actually making them think.
I’m seated a few feet away from Illingworth’s piano, creative driving force of GoGo Penguin, with one album, 2012’s Fanfares, under their belt, currently touring new album v2.0. released in March, 2014. With double bass player Nick Blacka standing motionless in a pool of light and drummer Rob Turner, head down, eyes closed, to the side of the stage, the band launches into Murmuration, whose introduction, while reminiscent of dance acts such as Massive Attack, gives way to a percussive driving energy which is all the band’s own. Drummer Turner perfectly complements Illingworth’s minimalist classicism and breathtaking harmonic content with strategically placed trip-hop and electronica-inflected breakbeats. Meanwhile Blacka brings an ethereal, eerie bowed bass sound to pieces such as Last Words. On Hoponono there is a change of pace as I suddenly find myself in a cinematic soundscape, with a beautiful catchy memorable melody as its theme. Instrumental experimental jazz? Catchy? Oh yes. Two brand new tunes, Break and the untitled Nick’s Tune linger in the mind long after the closing bars. At times during the set, it is as if the bassist is playing his own heartstrings, helping to give the band its trademark sound. Intriguingly, the more intimate ambience of the Dome Studio Theatre, gives the music an intensely visual effect as you listen, almost like the soundtrack to a series of film scenes by Robert Altman.
It’s truly inspiring to see what jazz can be, rather than it being labelled as “niche”or branded as “retro”. And it’s equally exciting to feel the responding buzz from an animated and appreciative Brighton Festival crowd. Throughout the hour-long performance, the trio constantly push boundaries in a blaze of pounding raw energy, beautiful melody and musical storytelling.
Afterwards, in a rare moment unsurrounded by enthusiastic new converts wanting their CD copies signed in the foyer, Illingworth tells me that apart from their much-touted Esbjorn Svensson Trio influences, his composition and playing derive equally from Glenn Gould, Aphex Twin and Shostakovich. Explaining how he composes music through a mixture of loops recorded and then played back on themselves as the band improvise, he promises that their next album will be “different, less electronica”. Signed to that rare phenomenon, an independent jazz label in Manchester, Gondwana Records, this band’s relatively short but intensely immediate and powerful performance is surely only an appetiser, because I can already see them billed next year in Brighton at that Mecca for new music, the Great Escape Festival, weaving their magic on a much wider audience.