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GoGo Penguin Live At Moods, Zürich – May 8, 2016 – A Review

Jazz has a problem. An age problem. I go to many Jazz concerts, and unfortunately, the typical spectator at such a concert is male, middle-aged at least, and grey haired.

I guess the times of Jazz being the music of the cool kids is over since the 1960’s, and overall this genre has been niched too much as intellectual, and has very little presence in the mainstream media and the public mind. Women and younger people are often clear minorities at this kind of concert.

Therefore I was very happy to see that I was able to attend a Jazz concert where not only the musicians where all in their early thirties, but the average age of the audience must have been not more than 25! Also both genders were pretty much equally represented. A very refreshing sight.

So who was able to pull these younger crowds into Moods, the best Jazz club in Zurich?

GoGo Penguin Live At Moods

Well, obviously we’re talking about GoGo Penguin. I’ve already praised their recent release Man Made Object previously, and was very happy to have such a musically rewarding weekend after seeing Michael Wollny’s trio just the day before.

So, how did it go?

Well, first of all, I was impressed. The trio sound of GoGo Penguin is very much influenced by Electronica, so I imagined a fair share of  Logic Pro or Ableton computer wizardry going on on the album.

Well, I obviously was mistaken. While they had their sound engineer with them, and I saw a Macbook connected to the mixing console, the ludicrous speed you here on their albums is nothing but exactly the same what they are pulling off live!

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 1

Bassist Nick Blacka pictured above was just impressive. Although I was sitting in the first row, I could sometimes barely follow his fingers, they were that fast. And he made generous use of the bow, which is always a nice change.

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 2

Chris Illingworth on piano sounded at times like a reborn Esbjörn Svensson, but this is probably one of the best compliments you can make to any Jazz pianist.

The real hero of the evening however was Rob Turner on drums.

GoGo Pengui LIve At Moods May 8 2016

The way he kept the beats of amazing syncopating complexity and even crazier speeds was just breathtaking. His pulsating bass drum was of drum machine precision, and was one of the key factors why this evening was so absorbing musically.

Obviously, this is not very traditional Jazz. There was some improvisation, but the music lived much more of the groove and in many moments sounded way more like Drum-and-Bass than Dave Brubeck.

But this is really what we need. Miles Davis famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.

EST really gets the credit for having started to modernize the Jazz trio. But here we truly have a worthy successor!

This is the kind of change I’d love to see more of!

Check out their concert schedule and if they come anywhere near you, you just have to go!

P.S. To close, some impressions of the Schiffbau buildin, where Moods is located, a former ship yard and industrial site, beautifully converted into a complex for theater, dining, and Jazz. Worth checking out if you’re ever in Zurich

 

All pictures (c) Musicophilesblog 2016

GoGo Penguin’s Man Made Object – The True Successor to EST?

Esbjörn Svensson Trio

I’ve previously written about the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) and their essential role of bringing the Jazz Piano Trio to the 21st century.

However, with the untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson in 2008, I’ve been wondering who would become a worthy successor.

I’ve written about a number of piano trios already, and there is certainly no lack of exciting new trios around. However, none of the trios I’ve written about got close to the particularity of the EST combining elements outside of Jazz into the art form, and having a focus on rhythms that come more from pop, rock, and electro. Well, maybe the US trio The Big Plus, or the Swiss Rusconi (that I both have yet to write about).

However, there is one trio that probably get’s closest to the originality of EST.

GoGo Penguin

Manchester-based GoGo Penguin, has already released two albums, Fanfares (2012), and v2.0 (2014). I started noticing them with the latter album, which I really like.

The trio is drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth. This order is taken directly from their website, and is inverting the usual order of giving the pianist’s name first. Well, I’m pretty sure this order is a very conscious choice, as Rob’s pulsating rhythms are really what sets this group apart from all other trios I’ve heard so far.

Man Made Object (2016 Blue Note)

This is the group’s first album on Blue Note, which should hopefully help them to get to the level of awareness they should be at.

GoGo Penguin Man Made Object 24/44 Blue Note 2016

I bought this album pretty much immediately when it came out.

The rhythmic drive, which is clearly influenced by contemporary electro music, is addictive. Combine to this the groove of Blacka’s bass, and Illingworth’ rather simple, but fascinating harmonics, and you cannot help but being drawn into the music.

My favorite tracks on this album are Weird Cat, epitomizing their style. Smart is another great example. You start out with an experimental intro and then jump pretty much immediately in a strongly syncopated groove by Turner and is joined by Blacka and Illingworth to slowly build up an entire harmonic and rhythmic landscape. Amazing.

Here’s the official video for the opening track, All Res, that should give you a pretty good idea:

 

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Prostudiomasters)

The Legacy Of The Jazz Messengers (7): Kenny Dorham’s Whistle Stop

I haven’t been continuing my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series for a while. It’s really time to change that.

Kenny Dorham is probably one of the least know Jazz Messengers, and this in spite of the fact that he played on the famous Café Bohemia sessions, and being the composer of the great standard Blue Bossa (I just love that song, check it out on Joe Henderson’s Page One or Dexter Gordon’s Biting the Apple).

He has recorded quite a number of noteworthy albums, including Afro-Cuban (1955), Quiet Kenny (1959), Matador (1962), Una Mas (1963), and Trompeta Toccata (1964), all of which are very much worth checking out.

Whistle-Stop (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Dorham Whistle Stop Blue Note 1961

 

So why call out Whistle Stop? Well, two reasons: a) the cast is stellar, with Hank Mobley, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, and b) we have only Dorham originals on this album

My favorite song is the bluesy Buffalo, which swings nicely and gives both Dorham and Mobley enough time to develop their solos. Another nice one is the title track, Whistle Stop, faster paced, but nicely grooving. Philly Twist is not dedicated to Philly Joe Jones, the drummer.

This is well done hard-bop, and deserves to be better known.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (HDtracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (6): Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones

I’ve a little bit neglecting my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series, don’t really know why. Maybe it is because I consider Freddie Hubbard’s albums for example as just a little bit less essential than the artists I’ve written about so far. Well, anyway, here we go again:

Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard is considered among musicians as one of the trumpet legends. He probably is one of the typical “musician’s musician”. He has, as my title indicates, played with the Jazz Messengers, but has played with pretty much every well-known Jazz musician of the period, be it John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, you name it. He also plays on The Blues And The Abstract Truth, one of my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Hub-Tones

Why the 1962 Blue Note album Hub-Tones?

Well, I was torn for a while whether I should feature Open Sesame, Ready For Freddie (both released 1 and 2 years prior to Hub-Tones on BlueNote), or one of the two subsequent releases on Impulse, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, or The Body And The Soul. 

You get the picture, these years between 1960 and 1965 were highly productive for Freddie, and all of the above mentioned albums are worth having.

Freddie Hubbard Hub-Tones 24/192 Blue Note 1962

One of the reasons I chose Hub-Tones is probably the cover. Blue Note’s cover art from this period was generally excellent, but I really like the minimalist cover of this particular album.

The other reason is Herbie Hancock, which I prefer slightly to McCoy Tyner on the two previous Blue Note albums (yes, I have a piano background so those things matter to me).

Finally, this album features a lot of Hubbard originals, which I really appreciate.

Another great artist on this album is James Spaulding playing the flute and alto sax alternatively, who is not that well known these days, but has played as a sideman for a large number of Blue Note albums.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDTracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (5): Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter

Why did I wait so long, you may ask? Why write about 4 other guys before Wayne Shorter, the absolute heavyweight among the Jazz Messengers Alumni, the only one (to my knowledge) that is still alive and playing?

The guy who got a letter of recommendation by saxophone god John Coltrane to join the Jazz’ Jupiter (big boss of the gods) Miles Davis. Who helped kick off (sadly to my mind, but who am I to judge) the Jazz-Rock and Fusion movement with the group Weather Report he co-founded, and even played with the Stones at some point?

Well, don’t know really. Two issues come to mind: a) respect: what can I still say about such a genius that hasn’t been said before (didn’t stop me in the other posts you may argue, and you’re right). b) choice: So far in my little series on the Jazz Messengers I’ve always picked one, the most enjoyable album, only. That was still kind of doable with the other 4 guys I’ve mentioned here, but which one do you choose for Wayne? At least 3 albums spring to mind that need to be mentioned!

You know what, I’ll just take the liberty (it’s my blog after all, I can do what I want, ain’t it nice?) and do several posts about Wayne, each one with one of my favorite albums.

Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple

Why start with Adam’s Apple? Well, alphabetically it comes first.

No, just kidding, even easier: It is simply the album that got the most plays of all Shorter albums in the last five years. Computer audio is amazing, I not only know what you did last summer (sorry for the stupid movie pun), but thanks to iTunes I can be my own personal NSA and check what I was listening on November 4th, 2011, 8pm for example (Ton Koopman’s Bach cantatas vol. 6, if you’re interested).

Back to Adam’s Apple. I mean, look at the rhythm section, there’s another genius, Herbie Hancock on piano. He’s probably the key reason why I like this album so much. Also, in spite of being released in 1966 (usually a bit “late” for me), it is still very much a proper hard bop album, no fusion or other on here.

And then there are two songs that are worth highlighting as I can’t get enough of them. First there is the title track, it is just swinging and grooving as hard bop should be. Even the guys a blue note tell me on this album Shorter “finds the Groove”, check out this link, it’s got interesting background info on the album.

And then there is the magical (to me) Footprints. Apparently it is not a Jazz waltz (the experts tell me, as this is 6/8 and not 3/4, plus the song keeps changing meter), but still I’d put in one line with the great Jazz Waltzes I really appreciate (probably I need to write another top ten list here). On top of that, Herbie Hancock’s playing here reminds me a lot of Maiden Voyage. 

In short: I really hesitate between 4 and 5 stars here. On one hand it’s Shorter, and has two outstanding songs, on the other hand some of the other songs are not at the same level.

Well if I have to decide: 4 stars in total. 

You can find it here and here. I strongly suggest you go for the recent 24/96 remaster if you care about sound quality (skip the more expensive 24/192), as it is significantly better than the RVG remaster CD released in the 2000’s.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (4): Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder

Part 4 now of my mini-series on the Jazz Messengers’ spin-offs.

Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan was famous even before the Jazz Messengers, as he’d already played with Dizzie Gillespie. But his stardom even rose further after playing on the famous Moanin‘ album from the Messengers, which I still need to write about.

The Sidewinder

I was a bit hesitant at first whether I should really write about this particular 1963 album, which obviously is by far his largest commercial success as a leader. Doesn’t he have many other great albums, like The GigoloDelightfulee, Vol. 3, Tom Cat, The Cooker, or Cornbread, all of which I’d highly recommend.

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Well even though I wanted to be creative, and not recommend an album that made it into the Billboard pop charts (heresy!) I gave up in the end. There is something just magical about the bluesy groove of The Sidewinder’s 10:28 title track, that I just had to recommend this first. It may not be the most creative album, nor the most artistically developed, but hey, it is just addictive.

A great rhythm section

Obviously, a great deal of this addictiveness stems from the rhythm section (especially Harris, but also Crenshaw, Higgins), but we also get another taste of Joe Henderson (although his solo on the title track is not very memorable, he get’s better on Totem Pole).

And then there is Lee himself, his playing is fantastic, and he actually wrote all the songs himself. A little bit of trivia on Morgan: he died a rather unusual death for a Jazz musician of the time (i.e. not of drugs or alcohol), but was shot by his long-term girlfriend of the time in 1971 for unclear reasons.

Luckily, this is not a “one-hit-wonder” album, all the other tracks of the album are very good, I particularly like Gary’s Notebook.

Overall rating: Groovy, Baby! (formerly known as 5 stars)

Addendum: Reader Bob Ryan kindly commented here that I omitted to mention “Search For The New Land” as one of the must have albums for Lee Morgan. I absolutely concur with his opinion.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (2): Hank Mobley – Soul Station

For part II of my little mini-series (well, given the number of relevant musicians that I really like, it may turn out maxi, who knows) on the Jazz Messengers, I obviously had a lot of choice. I ended up with Hank Mobley.

Hank Mobley

Why? He’s certainly one of the lesser known artists of the Jazz Messenger stable, and also one of the least well-known Tenor players (Coltrane, Shorter, Rollins, … would anybody spontaneously continue this list with Mobley?)

However, his albums are consistently good. They are never outstanding, I don’t have a single five-star album with Mobley, but I’ve rated most of his albums a very solid four star, they are just always fun to listen too. Getting to such a consistency is already a major achievement for me.

What are those four star albums? Well, you can pretty much chose blindly. Whether it is (in alphabetical order to avoid any impression of ranking) A Caddy For Daddy (what a nice title), Dippin, No Room For Squares, Hi Voltage, Roll Call, Soul Station, or Workout, they are all just a lot of fun. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well Mobley and his several groups have plenty.

Mobley grew up learning the … piano. Apparently he starting playing the saxophone only at the age of 16. I sometimes wonder, had he started earlier, would we list him with the Coltranes of this world? If Wikipedia is to be believed,  Miles Davis had considered him as a replacement for Coltrane for a little while (what is for sure is that you’ll find Mobley on the great Miles Davis album “Someday My Prince Will Come” playing alongside Coltrane).

As part of the Messengers he also played with Horace Silver, including the nice album “Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers” I completely forgot to mention in my previous post.

Soul Station

Hank Mobley Soul Station Blue Note 24 192

 

So why did I pick his 1960 album Soul Station here? Well, there’s obviously the personnel: Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, plus Art Blakey. What could possible go wrong? In any case, I don’t seem to be alone in preferring this album (witness this very nice article about him written by the folks at BlueNote), and Jazz critic Bob Blumenthal wrote that this album could be considered his “Saxophone Colossus” or “Giant Steps”.

Luckily I didn’t even have to research the facts above, as I have a very simple system: given that I try to rate individual songs as much as possible within iTunes, I can simply check the average score of an album. While most of my Mobley albums net out at four stars throughout, Soul Station stands out just a bit at “4.33” stars.

Two exceptional tracks

The album stands out due to two exceptional tracks: This I Dig Of You and Soul Station. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are the longest tracks on the album. I’ve noticed before that usually the really long tracks (Soul Station is 9:05) are often the best, probably because they just leave more room to the individual soloing.

Overall rating: 4 stars (well 4 1/3 mathematically…)