Gogo Penguin – Fanfares ★★★

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Gondwana GONDCD 008
Chris Illingworth (p), Grant Russell (b), and Rob Turner (d). Rec. January 2012


Recording for Giles Peterson favourite trumpeter Matthew Halsall’s label, the Manchester-based fledgling piano trio Gogo Penguin on first impressions seem to take their cue from the happening acoustic piano trio model spearheaded by EST and The Bad Plus over the previous decade. This is borne out by the opening eulogy by pianist Chris Illingworth to the late Esbjörn Svensson titled ‘Seven Sons of Björn’, and the following Aphex Twin-inspired tune ‘Last Words’ that sounds like a sister track to The Bad Plus cover of Aphex’s ‘Flim’ from 2003. Yet this kind of comparison doesn’t tell the whole story at all. Though not without a classical music background (they all studied together at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester) Gogo Penguin is from a younger generation listening to electronic and rock music as much as jazz. It’s the conversion of the structures, textures as well as sonic nuances of electronic and rock to the setting of the acoustic piano trio that makes up the core of the sound. There’s hardly anything that could be considered a jazz solo and the piano isn’t in its usual default frontline role. Rather than thinking of them as descendants of the piano-led EvansJarrett-Svensson school, imagine a contemporary groove-propelled mix of Michael Nyman’s film score for The Piano and you’re nearer the mark. They are perhaps closest in spirit to the UK’s Neil Cowley Trio, a band of equals that revel in epic song-like themes and vigorous interaction. That might be their greatest strength.

– Selwyn Harris