GoGo Penguin’s second album, the Mercury Prize-nominated v2.0, was an ideal gateway to jazz for listeners more versed in electronica. Its baselines nodded to breakbeat, its drumming sometimes evoked a Chicago house tune, and a piano might mimic a vinyl glitch.
With Manmade Object, the Manchester trio of Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (bass) and Rob Turner (drums) continue where they left off. It’s their first record for Blue Note, the venerable jazz label, but they’ve not let their new home curb their genre-bending tendencies.
The first track, ‘All Res’, starts like a classical duet — lyrical piano and a bowed bass that sounds more like a cello. In come those signature, skittering drums of Rob Turner, and suddenly we are in another musical universe. It was also the track that opened the group’s superb gig in Triskel last year, as part of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.
‘Unspeakable World’ takes up a familiar GoGo Penguin trope, with a Steve Reich-style piano riff sounding like a looped sample. This is paired with a deep-house-style piano line, before developing into something more interesting via a short bass solo.
On ‘Branches Break’, again, a bright lyrical piano sets the mood, before the track lives up to its name, with a driving, head-nodding club sound taking over. ‘Smarra’, meanwhile, devolves into something dark and jarring: Aphex Twin territory. Both are satisfying example of GoGo’s method here, of recreating electronic music with acoustic instruments. In fact, many of these compositions started life electronically, as tracks made with sequencing software.
So, should someone call the jazz police? For some aficionados, Manmade Object might sound too straight ahead, but that’s possibly because the album’s very extroversion, drive, and energy belie a complexity and sophistication that shows the band’s real development since v2.0.
The interplay between the three performers, and the harmonies they develop, channel the true spirt of jazz, and GoGo’s willingness to broaden the music’s horizons should be acclaimed.
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