FESTIVAL REVIEW: GoGo Penguin at the Manchester Jazz Festival

Nick Blacka of GoGo Penguin
Photo credit: Adrian Pallant
GoGo Penguin
Manchester Jazz Festival, 7 August 2015. Review by Adrian Pallant)

A sell-out crowd occupied the seats and lined the aisles of the Manchester Jazz Festival Pavilion to welcome home local heroes GoGo Penguin for a Friday evening’s blistering assault on the senses. The Festival's Artistic Director, Steve Mead, warned that the piano trio’s volume levels had risen since their last appearance – and it would appear that their confidence and dynamism have increased in tandem.

Double bassist Nick Blacka, drummer Rob Turner and pianist Chris Illingworth have, since their 2012 album debut Fanfares, been attracting growing cross-genre interest for their trance-like approach to jazz – and last year’s follow-up album v2.0 cemented their reputation as a successful post-EST ensemble who have worked hard at forging their own sound.

Newly-signed to Blue Note Records, with a recording pretty much in the can for release next year, the band road-tested some of this material in Manchester, along with some album favourites. The eagerness of the crowd’s deafening whoops and whistles at the end of their opening number was picked up by spokesperson Blacka, who commented that they’d just played their first number of the evening, not the last! High energy bass’n’drum grooves heralded-in familiar pieces such as One Percent and popular Garden Dog Barbecue, which reverberated to their thunderous, amplified rhythms; and the evolving, echoic piano soundscape of Murmuration sent shivers up the spine.

Nick Blacka is very much the kingpin of this trio, his percussive strength and high fingerboard dexterity producing some engaging improvisation (at times, his rasping attack goes even beyond electric bass resonances and more towards Hendrix); and Rob Turner has to be one of the most metronomically complex drummers to watch, with intricate dance-beat detail and sudden-death endings (eyes seemingly closed in meditation) timed to perfection. Chris Illingworth – as chief melodicist, perhaps the quieter personality – produces audacious, high piano octave riffs and grooving low-end chords, completing a soundworld so absolute that it’s difficult to envisage a fourth instrument ever breaking in. And it would be unsurprising if the majestic serenity of their broad, atmospheric landscapes found its way into movie-drama soundtracks. Previews of new album numbers, including Manmade Object, were delivered with brilliant precision, despite Blacka intimating that they were still perfecting them.

Deafening appreciation throughout this two-part gig confirmed the wideness of GoGo Penguin’s appeal. With numerous international live appearances booked throughout 2015 and into 2016 (Barbican, London, already sold out for November!), these are certainly exciting times for the Manchester trio – and deservedly so.

LINK: CD Review: v2.0

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