One of the first things that attracted me to beat music was its similarity to jazz, with both sharing a no-holds barred, often free form, soaring approach to musical expression. Not coincidentally, both forms also provide any number of rabbit holes in which to fall into and explore. Wherever your tastes run, jazz and beat have fountains from which even the most hard-to-please music connoisseurs can drink. It was only a matter of time, but the script has been flipped, and some of today’s most promising hep cats are showing love and affection for today’s more contemporary beat sound instead of the other way around.
Enter GoGo Penguin, a Manchester-based jazz trio with obvious reverence for Aphex Twin and Massive Attack to go with their more “obvious” jazz predecessors on their Blue Note debut, Man Made Object. Think BADBADNOTGOOD, replace the penchant for hip-hop with beats/electronica, and you’ve got a pretty good comparison point. When you consider that these album compositions originally were penned on sequencing software like Logic or Ableton, the jazz-paying-homage-to-beats-link becomes that much more obvious. Q-Tip’s acknowledgement of musical cycles remains as prescient as ever.
Comprised of Rob Turner on percussion, Nick Blacka on bass and Chris Illingworth on the 88 keys, GoGo Penguin is a group of supremely talented individuals who clearly are operating on the same plane, as I’m hard pressed to think of a more complimentary, organic sounding band. You might recall the boys were shortlisted for the the Barclaycard Mercury Prize Album of the Year in 2014 for their last effort, v2.0.
Turner is a master of non-conventional percussion, seemingly more interested in breakbeats than standardized paradiddles (it’s a real word; look it up). Blacka just might have the cleanest, fattest stand-up bass sound I’ve heard in years, and Illingworth draws levels of intensity and paranoia that help shape the overall sound of the band. The strength of Man Made Object comes from the coalescing whole, not from a series of one-off virtuoso solos.
“Branches Break” might be the purest example of this idea. The track starts with plaintive piano chords before an almost but not quite off-beat drum and cymbal enter, followed immediately by a deep and expansive bass. What starts as a quiet meditation swells into a beast before quieting down again. “Weird Cat” and “Quiet Mind” showcase the boys at some of their most exploratory here, delving in and out of organized chaos to a most satisfying effect. “Smarra” could be the future of this brand of “acoustic electronica,” a hyperactive instrumental exercise that devolves into hiss and general distortion before returning ever so briefly to a more peaceful, instrumental sound.
Album closer “Protest” further exemplifies what makes GoGo Penguin more than worth your listen. Each member is on fire—the steady drip of Blacka’s bass, the precision percussion of Turner and the focused fingers of Illingworth all are riding towards the same destination. Their music is filled with tension and passion, a shared musician’s journey that the listener is lucky to be invited along. And this is why we #ListenToMoreJazz.