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They may be signed to the legendary Blue Note jazz label, but don’t dismiss GoGo Pengiun as simply a 'jazz band'.
Delving into their tight grooves, it’s clear the trio's instrumental sound pulls in a myriad of influences, from contemporary Brit jazz stars Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, to the avant-garde and modernist compositions of John Cage and Shostakovich, to the electronic experimentations of Lamb, Squarepusher, Burial, Radiohead.
"We try not to think about being part of any one particular genre," says pianist Chris Illingworth. "When you give something a label, it becomes limiting. If you only think within the jazz world, it’s harder to break out when you do something that’s maybe different – that doesn’t sound like jazz, so we can’t do it! We want to be as open as we can.
"Electronica is one of the biggest influences on us, there are so many variations … you can go from Bjork to Death Grips. Jazz has evolved, there’s so much history to look back on, so many different areas to pull things in from too. We just use elements of all that’s useful and combine them – that’s what it feels like to us."
Drummer Rob Turner agrees: "Jazz is a category system that includes everything from Ornette Coleman to Robbie Williams doing big band swing. So the category system is neither accurate nor useful – it’s like ‘mammal’ including everything from a whale to a hamster. People then invest so much in that category system, and get into huge arguments, and whatever line you take in that argument, you’re already wrong, because you’re arguing! We’d rather concentrate on writing great music."
Hailing from Manchester, the trio released their first two LPs with hot local label Gondwana Records. Though 2012's Fanfares was well received, the arrival of bassist Nick Blacka saw the band up their game considerably for 2014's V2.0, which was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
Now comes Man Made Object, their first release for Blue Note Records, the label famed for iconic cuts by the likes of Donald Byrd, Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis et al.
“That title - Man Made Object - is partly inspired by my fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation,” says Illingworth. "We’re recreating electronic music on acoustic instruments. It’s like a man-made object that has become humanised and it seemed like a good album title, one that also means something different to each of us, and hopefully to each listener.”
In case you're wondering where the name comes from, Illingworth says they selected it because it had no obvious genre associations, though when pushed admits it was inspired by a penguin prop, made for an opera production. It was later auctioned off for charity where it was bought by a friend of the pianist. At the time, the trio had a gig booked, but desperately needed a moniker, and it was then that Illingworth spotted the prop.
"It was a panic decision. I noticed the penguin just hanging on the wall," he recalls. "[But] we ended up sticking with it as we wanted a name that was different to the clichéd jazz names. We wanted to avoid ‘The --- Trio’ type name. I had The Chris Illingsworth Trio, and it seemed important to us as the music was more important than one of us - we wanted it to sound completely like a collaboration, it’s the three of us and our sound engineer is the fourth member. We’re all equal, individual components, it’s not about one person – no one person is more important than the other."
Sadly, the penguin prop has since vanished.
"I have no idea where it gone to," confesses Chris. "It’s a weird mystery. It’ll probably pop up on eBay at some point."
By David Vincent
GoGo Penguin play The Glee Club on Tuesday 23 February
Posted on Thu 18 Jul