Based in Manchester and boasting a classic jazz trio line-up of piano (Chris Illingworth), bass (Nick Blacka) and drums (Rob Turner), GoGo Penguin never cease to blur the lines and push the genre into new territories. An electrifying formation on a live stage, it borrows from the “Wall of Sound” aesthetics of rock music. At the same time, the trio’s trademark deluge of beats and hypnotic basslines also acknowledges the influence of electronica, drum & bass, IDM and experimental music. Following on from Fanfares (2012) and the fantastic v2.0 in 2014 (both on Gondwana Records), Man Made Object (February 2016) launches the band’s début for the prestigious Blue Note label.

GoGo Penguin - Man Made Object (2016)
GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object (2016)

Ever since the introduction of computers, synthesisers and sound chips halfway through the 20th century, the premise of electronic music has been to generate sound waves (analogue or digital) without using any traditional instruments or natural sounds. Turning that concept on its head as an acoustic jazz trio, GoGo Penguin’s aspiration is to recreate electronic sounds with acoustic instruments.

Many of the songs on this album started out as electronic compositions that I made on sequencing software like Logic or Ableton,” says drummer Turner. “I’ll then play it to the band and we’ll find ways of replicating it acoustically.

The official video for the first track on the new album “All Res” wonderfully visualises this unique style and highlights the rhythmic complexities of the composition.

If John Cage introduced the concept of altering the sound of a piano in the 1940s by placing objects between the strings, drummer Rob Turner is also constantly toying with alternative ways of executing polyrhythms and patterns from a sonic point of view. But rather than adding to the kit like many prog-rock or jazz-rock drummers have done in the past, Turner sticks to the basic jazz kit. Using modified snares, dampened cymbals, a pandeiro on a tom, a caxixi rattle on hi-hats and various home-made modifications, the musician enhances the sonic range at his disposal with subtle variations, always in an effort to reproduce the vast array of modern machine-based textures.

The ten compositions on Man Made Object are relatively short but are all derived either from an elaborate bass line, a skittering drum progression or a simple motif on the piano. Always performed as a tightly synchronised trio, most songs quickly build up to a sonic maelstrom (like “Smarra” or “Protest” for instance), thus emulating the trance-like atmosphere of a club. “Branches Break” or “Initiate” on the other hand are constructed around a looping riff on the piano which quickly hooks the listener with its catchy phrase.

With the band acknowledging the presence of sound engineer Joseph Reiser as a fourth member, Man Made Object is an intoxicating album and a very impressive acoustic creation.