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GoGo Penguin at Concorde 2: Jazz in the mainstream?

Jazz music today exists in a peculiar space of seemingly both simultaneous loss and revival.

The not-original-but-now-renewed crossover of jazz and rap music, and the successes of film phenomenon La La Land make a stark contrast with its still relatively low listening stats.

Contemporary jazz group GoGo Penguin’s ‘Hopopono’, their most famous track that benefited from a Mercury Prize nomination springboard, has 5mil listens on Spotify – GoGo Penguin then, could then be considered, more than just a little jazz group.

Tonight, they are here to promote their new album, ‘A Humdrum Star…’, which they play almost in its entirety. Chris Illingworth’s effects saturated piano sounds dreamlike or hyper real as it floats above the mix, but anchored down by tightly knit bass drums from Rob Turner. The latter is hurriedly complex, ever evolving and pulsing restlessly.

The overall tone of the set has an occasional tendency for each song to fit into a formula, where each grows and builds in a similar way to the last – but their incredible skill is clear and shines through in the songwriting.

A sold out Concorde 2 crowd for a jazz gig is a rare sighting, and proof of their impressive feat to bring contemporary jazz, accessibly, to a wider audience.

Intriguingly, despite the effects and electronic textures, attempts to push new boundaries and contemporary genres, they are at their best when revelling in the brilliant simplicity of songs off of sophomore effort ‘v2.0’. That these are received best by the audience as proof of that, yet they only play one track from it.

Although their songs are almost entirely composed, they still have a degree of spontaneity in between songs, albeit a small one, in the form of neat fills and spurts of drumming or fragments of melodies from bassist Nick Blacka are interspersed between tracks to great and tantalising effect.

It is undoubted that their success has come in the form of considerable popularity, taking them on tour of the usual, 600+ capacity venues throughout the country. This setting, though – a traditionally gig and club-centred venue with full light show of colours and strobes – is a little jarring, and perhaps unsuited to their music.

A densely packed mass of people with pints in hand and synchro/syncopated head-nodding makes for both an encouraging show of the popularity of their music and the genre, but also a strange fusion of the niche and lowkey heart of jazz with the more industrialised manner of big-bucks bands – a fusion that with each songs feels increasingly more like a straightjacket.

By their awkwardly forced encore, it is hard to tell whether this is a brave new land for jazz, or a strange and forced repackaging of an old style into a new formula that is yet to find its fit.

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