What is Jazz?
The question of what actually constitutes Jazz is as old as the music itself. In the 1970s, Jazz tried to cross-over into rock creating subgenera such as Jazz-rock and Fusion, and also some singer-songwriter pop music in the style of Norah Jones or Katie Melua could often be found in the “Jazz” boxes of your average record store.
And obviously, one of the most important movements of the last 3 decades, electronic music in all its ways, has had an influence on Jazz as well. The late Esbjörn Svensson was one of the first to bring electronic elements into the Jazz trio, and many have followed since, blurring the lines even further.
Gogo Penguin is a young Jazz trio from Manchester, that, while using the traditional piano / bass / drums combination, is influenced very heavily by electronic music in the style of Massive Attack, especially on the rythmic side, but at the same time clearly draws inspiration from the minimalist movement.
I’ve praised their previous album, Man Made Object (their first release on BlueNote), here, even naming it as one of my top 5 Jazz albums of 2016, after having seen them live at Moods Zurich in 2016.
So I had really high expectations when they recently released their latest album.
A Humdrum Star (BlueNote 2018)
I purchased A Humdrum Star blindly the moment it came out, and was expecting to write a review pretty soon afterwards. However, its now been out for 2 weeks and I still hadn’t written the review.
Basically, I wasn’t very impressed after the first couple of listening sessions, but was really hoping this album would grow on me. Now I can unfortunately safely report, it didn’t. Let me make it clear, this is very good music from very talented musicians.
However, it simply doesn’t work for me. Is it the even increasing influence of minimalism, or electronica? Is it maybe a decreasing focus on the melodic vs. the rhythmic elements? Some songs feel a bit more stuck in loops and patterns than before.
So in a nutshell, this is not my album of choice from them. I recently revisited their earlier albums Fanfares and v2.0, just to double check, and A Humdrum Star is personally my least favorite of their discography.
I still very much suggest you check this out, your conclusion may be very much different to mine.
I´ll make sure revisit this occasionally, and maybe it will grow on me over a longer period, but so far I´ll rather go back to Man Made Object.
My rating: 3 stars (objectively and musically speaking, this is at least 4 stars, but as mentioned, it doesn’t “stick” for me, hence this more neutral rating)
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)