Album reviews

GoGo Penguin – ‘GGP/RMX’

GoGo Penguin – GGP/RMX
(Blue Note Records – Download review by Graham Spry)

Jazz afficionados rarely anticipate remix albums with much enthusiasm. The notion of inviting DJs and producers to revisit acoustic, improvised jazz originals with studio effects can sometimes appear to be anathema to what the music was intended to achieve. GGP/RMX is an exception to this rule.

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There are several reasons why this should be so, chief of which being the nature of their music. Although very much a piano jazz trio—consisting of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner — the band’s music is informed by the experiments and examples of contemporary electronic music. This is evident in the structure of tunes where each instrument takes equal weight and the melody emerges from the rhythm rather than simply overlays it. Another reason is that this album has employed the services of producers who are genuinely of the highest quality, significant artists whose contribution to contemporary music goes well beyond their remixing skills.

Almost all the tunes from GoGo Penguin are featured on the remix album, but not exactly in the same order. The first track, Kora, is remixed by the Tokyo-based musician Cornelius (Oyamada Keigo) who discreetly adds additional electronics to a spare and relaxed original in which Illingworth’s prepared piano remains in the lead. His fellow countryman, sound designer Yosi Horikawa, known for his field recordings in nature, provides a subtle remix of Embers that make it seem as if the track were recorded in the open air, with crackles and even bird-song adding extra colour.

The original lead track, Atomised, with its rolling piano arpeggios and changes of tempo, is remixed by American producer Machinedrum (Travis Stewart) who has added synths and sampled vocals to produce a tune whose pounding inexorable progression is now more obviously fit for the dancefloor. Two producers tackle F Maj Pixie. French producer Rone (Erwan Castex) has created a shimmering atmospheric mix with added synths and echoing but spare percussive beats suited for headphone-listening, while celebrated British musician Squarepusher (Tom Jenkinson) has radically recast the tune with his trademark glitches, tuneful guitar and a melodic bass. This may well be the most impressive remix on the album.

Turner’s drums dominate in the original version of Open, now remixed by producer Nathan Fake. Fake retains the central role of the drums, although pitched higher and faster than in the original, accompanied by sparkling synths and a wash of studio sound. Fake is a protégé of producer James Holden who creates a widescreen slowed-down reinterpretation of Totem that emphasises space rather than rhythm.

GoGo Penguin are proudly Mancunian so it isn’t surprising that they should employ Graham Massey, originally of Manchester’s venerable club band 808 State, to refashion Signal In The Noise as an exhilarating mix that combines the vocoder, clattering percussion, atmospheric samples and glitchiness to revive memories of Manchester’s early eminence in British House music. Fellow Mancunian, producer and multi-instrumentalist Shunya (Alan Keary), takes on To The Nth, to reinvent a fairly typical GoGo Penguin composition as a shimmeringly beautiful piece of music orchestrating acoustic instruments with distinct movements and a shifting tempo.

The producer Clark (Chris Clark), now a Deutsche Grammophon artist, remixes the track Petit_a that originally appeared on a limited-edition album, Live from Studio 2, to produce the most thunderously club-oriented track of the album, propelled by a dark brooding energy. The final track, Don’t Go, has been remodelled by Portico Quartet who are probably the British band most alike in feel and spirit to GoGo Penguin, and their version emphasises more the differences in the bands’ approaches than their similarities.

One wonders whether such a sympathetic and imaginative remix album would have been possible on any other record label than Blue Note, which has steadily re-established itself as a premium label for forward-looking modern jazz and has a history of putting together artistically successful remix compilations of producers and jazz musicians of all generations.

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