Workingman’s Jazz: GoGo Penguin Returns with ‘A Humdrum Star’

Chris Daly takes a look at the latest LP from UK jazz trio GoGo Penguin.
By    February 14, 2018

Photo Credit: Linda Bujoli

Chris Daly re-recorded his own narration for March of the Penguins.

On A Humdrum Star, Manchester trio GoGo Penguin’s latest full-length on the venerable Blue Note label, the band treks further down the rabbit hole of their own electronica-inspired jazz creations. With many of the tracks sketched out on DJ/producer programs like Ableton and Logic, the band continues to make music inspired by newer sources, but remains beholden to none. As the best bands always do, regardless of the muse source, GoGo Penguin makes music that sounds distinct and wholly unique.

If there’s one word to summarize the emotional heft of the nine tracks here, it’s “urgency.” From the opening notes of “Prayer” through the closing of “Window,” bassist Nick Blacka, pianist Chris Illingworth, and drummer Rob Turner convey a palpable sense of uncertainty—not with the music they play, but with life itself.

Standout tracks “Bardo” and “Strid” are perfect examples, starting softly, building to crescendo and releasing multiple times within their respective seven and eight minute plus run times, before the next song comes in like a gut punch. Songs like “Raven” are seemingly full catharsis, with Illingworth’s piano tapping out frantic keys while Turner and Blacka keep pace and give the black and white ivories room to breathe and grow.

Pointing out that jazz’s death has been greatly exaggerated is an established given at this time. If you still have any questions, you’re either not paying attention to the scene or have come to the startling realization that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are god-like creatures who surely would never lie to us. What’s worth mentioning, however, is that groups like GoGo Penguin, with their own sense of exploration and way of doing things, will keep the genre alive for at least the foreseeable future.