Friday 30 November 2012

GoGo Penguin, Matthew Halsall Trio

GoGo Penguin, Matthew Halsall Trio
Band on the Wall, November 29, 2012 

The first tune was characteristically frenetic, full-on and storming, but GoGo Penguin are nothing if not dynamic, and calm entered with a springy bass solo by Grant Russell. The occasion is the official launch of GoGo Penguin's debut album, Fanfares (on the Gondwana label), and the trio are cooking. 

What is the secret of the distinct GoGo sound? It might be that each player reaches their point of flammability at a different temperature. No matter how voluble drummer Rob Turner and bassist Russell get, Chris Illingworth is never less than measured and graceful on piano. And just as temperatures collide in a positive way, so rhythm is also mercurial and unpredictable. Rob Turner's absorption of urban hip-hop rhythms gives a modernistic sheen. Then there's Illingworth's confidence in melody, and a sense of dramatic structure that owes more to prog-rock than straightahead jazz. They also insist on giving listeners something to feel - a real rock 'n' roll imperative - and every piece is a journey into mystery. The strangely freaky bits that est used to achieve by electronic means are here deployed on strictly acoustic instruments, using skin and ivory, which is another plus. 

Whereas the Matthew Halsall Trio harness the full panoply of electronica, with Taz Modi simultaneously manipulating a bass synth and electric keyboards. A box of wires enables Halsall's trumpet to vault the gates of heaven. Or, at other times, a ghost Halsall spars with the flesh and blood Halsall. The music flits between inner-directed reverie and spellbinding grandeur. Listeners either surrender to mesmerism or vote with their feet, with the latter a definite minority, and mainly from the mouldy olde fig camp. 

Two covers indicate the expansiveness of Halsall's vision: 'Acrid Avid Jam Shred' by Aphex Twin and 'Ode to the Big Sea' by The Cinematic Orchestra (indeed, The Cinematic Orchestra's own Luke Flowers is on drums). "I love this tune," said my neighbour, as 'Big Sea' was announced. So it's not all Miles and modalism as Halsall's recorded output suggests. If I didn't surrender completely, it was only because Flowers comes from the John Bonham School of Jazz Drumming. Possibly I'm turning into a mouldy olde fig myself.

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