GoGo Penguin and Richard Bona make Thump Fest go with a bang

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Building on the success of last year’s Thump Festival, Bence Bolygo and Andy Chapman of Bolygo Music Productions have done themselves proud this year with sellout performances on three of the four days at Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club. Last year's Thump ethos was a focus on drums and rhythm. This year it seems the ethos has been extended based on the choice of headline acts.

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Day one showcased the all-female group Quintette (above) featuring Sophie Alloway, a young drummer whose playing has been steadily gaining attention as has trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, saxophonist Josephine Davies, pianist Naadia Sheriff and bassist/singer Charlie Pyne. This collective brought to the table, not so much a thump, but a refined almost straight-ahead offering evinced through the subtleties of compositions such as Sheriff's 'A Light Heart Lives Long' here Alloway applies a hint hip-hop to the rhythm, or 'Jamil Jamal' where Eastern melodies receive an urban treatment allowing each soloist to paint their own interpretation of the songs structure. This protean collective shows signs of interesting things to come.

Day two saw Manchester-based GoGo Penguin (above) headline, the band featuring drummer Rob Turner, pianist Chris Illingworth and Nick Blacka on acoustic bass. Any Thump quota left over from the previous day was quickly consumed as this tightly woven piano trio got energised. Drawing on material from both their latest album v2.0 and previous album Fanfares, the driving piano riffs and anthemic pulses they generated at times, created an atmosphere of almost being at a rave. Blacka made a point of apologising to those at front of stage for the loudness but with a wry smile said there was nothing he could do about it and which did not seem a problem for the now-hyper audience. The overall sound was clear with brittle sparkle, crafted no doubt by their sound engineer Joe Reiser who Blacka referred to as the ‘fourth Penguin’, a major component in making the night a thumping success.
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Days three and four featured Cameroonian bass player/singer songwriter Richard Bona (below). Tasked with rounding off this year's festival, Bona took it in his stride, having honed his craft working with the likes Joe Zawinul, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny and George Benson to name a few, his jovial demeanour suggesting it was just another day at the office for him. With double performances on both nights Bona shows great technique and mastery of nuance, with dynamics ranging from sotto voce to a resounding thump.

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With fellow musicians Etienne Stadwijk (keyboards), Ludwig Alfonso (drums) and Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet) they created excitement as well as soulful depth displaying their technical prowess through songs such as Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Teen Town’ and the great party spirit of ‘Please Don't Stop’ (from his album Tiki with the original featuring vocals from John Legend).  Exquisite compositional skills were evident in ‘M'Bemba Mama’. Sung in the Duala dialect, and though not many in the audience understood the words its form and musical delivery was strong enough to render the room into contemplative silence. Such was the band’s potency that Bona fearing the audience would not go home after the second encore he thought it prudent perform a lullaby not so much to calm but to put everyone to “sleep, sleep… please sleep…” – perhaps until Thump 2015.

– Roger Thomas (Story and photos)