GoGo Penguin: A Humdrum Star (Blue Note)

Leading lights of UK jazz, the Mancunian trio return with impressive, experimental fourth LP

Released Feb 8th, 2018 via Blue Note / By Norman Miller
GoGo Penguin: A Humdrum Star (Blue Note) This latest outing for former Mercury Prize contenders GoGo Penguin - pianist Chris Illingworth, bass man Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner – comes two years after Man Made Object marked their move to the iconic Blue Note label.

But they continue here on the genre jumping way that saw them touring their own live soundtrack for the film Koyaanisqatsi last year. And if you're curious about the album title, it comes from a throwaway comment about our Sun by astronomer Carl Sagan on his celebrated TV series Cosmos.

While plenty of clever jazzers switch through different tempos and vibes on individual tracks, GoGo Penguin push that into a mash-up of genres. On the outstanding Reactor, for example, an opening 'pure' jazz section glistens with niggling bass and stabbing piano chords before giving way to a middle section that would be excellent kosmische if played on a synth rather than a piano. Then we head back to a straight – though excellent – jazz piano solo, before easing into a slow tango.

The sweet ostinato on the hypnotic Prayer nods to ambient, trance vibes pulse in the shifting piano hooks on Bardo, while A Hundred Moons is infused with a World Music vibe from its percussive African opening to a piano motif tinged with hints of the Orient.

Transient State is another standout, kicking off with sparse cymbal and drum before moving through stately piano riffs that soar breathlessly. Fluid timings, rumbustious bass and intricate pianos jostle for attention on Strid, while reverb drenches brittle piano motifs on Raven.

At times, the band overplay the use of repeated motifs, and their restless desire to play with ideas sometimes finds you admiring tracks for technical prowess rather than loving them. But GoGo Penguin remain contemporary British jazz's great experimenters – and long may that continue.