On GoGo Penguin’s Self-Titled Opus

Chris Daly offers a few words on the Blue Note trio's fifth album.
By    June 30, 2020

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Chris Daly makes root beer floats with Faygo.

When a band names an album after themselves, there’s a sense that the music says something definitive about who and what they are as artists. GoGo Penguin make such a mission statement on their fifth album to date. Released on Blue Note, GoGo Penguin conveys urgency from the get go. Chris Illingworth’s sparse piano chords open the album over ambient noise that easily could be mistaken for the beginning of an April shower on “1_#,” and the sounds of a thunderstorm aptly describe the trio. Less concerned with melody and more tightly focused on emotional presence, the band maintains a pulsating drive throughout the majority of tracks here.

Bassist Nick Blacka continues to have perhaps the cleanest-sounding, yet far-ranging, stand-up bass in the game today. Had I not seen the band in person before, I would be easily persuaded to believe that drummer Rob Turner is no man at all, but a well-oiled syncopation machine driven by some holy force. Illingworth’s piano sounds like the audio equivalent of a driving rain, to abuse the metaphor further, but try to tell me I’m wrong. While each track is designed as a group endeavor, the artists do have individual standout moments. “Open” highlights Turner’s ability to seemingly play 15 different beats simultaneously, never once losing the pocket or the groove. “Signal in the Noise” gives ample room for Blacka to abuse his instrument in the best ways possible, thumping like his life depended on it, and who knows, maybe it does.

“F Maj Pixie” shows off Illingworth’s ability to manipulate the keys in astounding ways, plowing through notes like a man unhinged. However, it’s when the boys play off one another that things transcend to next level status. Look no further than “To the Nth” to see each seemingly going their own way before they gloriously meld into a united front. With obvious passion to accompany the urgency, closer “Don’t Go” could not have been better named, or played, for that matter. As powerful as they come across here, it’s clear GoGo Penguin has a lot more to say.

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