GoGo Penguin’s new album ‘A Humdrum Star’ could scarcely come at a more opportune time for British jazz. Countless press inches have been afforded to the scene’s so-called resurgence, with new prominence given to a fresh generation of musicians.
Yet this group are hardly new. If anything, GoGo Penguin’s stellar catalogue underlines the fact that a lot of great music has been operating under the UK jazz umbrella over the years, especially their previous two long players.
Named after a Carl Sagan quote, ‘A Humdrum Star’ was recorded entirely in their native Manchester, using the Low Four studios in the former Granada television building.
There’s a richly atmospheric sense of ambition running through the record, continually side-stepping expectations on the band’s continually inventive strand of jazz-but-not-jazz.
‘Prayer’ is a subtle, almost ambient, opener, before ‘Raven’ begins to incorporate a lust for electronics, and an awareness of club tropes – those drums wouldn’t sound out of place on a breaks record, for example.
‘Bardo’ is a lengthy discourse in group composition, the elastic bassline underpinning those delicate piano notes, and the most subtle of electronics. ‘Strid’ operates without limits, the taut bass reminiscent of those early Reprazent cuts while the arrangement pirouettes around it.
‘Return To Text’ is an excellent minimalist piece, the revolving piano sequence recalling Steve Reich while still remaining resolutely in a jazz sphere. Unafraid to be brutal, ‘A Humdrum Star’ can often provide moments of stellar, unencumbered beauty; ‘A Hundred Moons’ is perfectly brooding, while finale ‘Window’ displays real creative clarity.
It’s the ability of GoGo Penguin to absorb and side-step fresh elements that makes them so beguiling. ‘A Humdrum Star’ feels like a step beyond the precious experiments of their opening records, a concise and complete statement that defies categorisation and reinforces the vitality of UK jazz at this moment.
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