Jazz is one of those genres which seems to be having a hard time moving forward. Despite the fact that it is arguably the most stylistically versatile of the main music genres, there aren’t many truly revolutionary jazz acts anymore. Some detractors of the genre might even say it’s exhausted its creative capacity. This isn’t a sentiment I agree with, but it’s certainly been a while since I heard a modern jazz album I considered a legitimate game-changer. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of good jazz out there – last year alone saw some spectacular releases by the likes of The Bad Plus, Vijay Iyer, Snarky Puppy, and Kamasi Washington. These are some of the acts I feel are scratching the surface of some kind of breakthrough. Yet the problem with even the best modern jazz releases seems to be the fact that they fall prey to the same old weaknesses – self-indulgence, adherence to convention, and lack of distinction.
Thankfully, GoGo Penguin have managed to avoid most of these descriptions. Stemming from the far subtler London jazz scene, their musical aesthetic is substantially different. Fewer solos, more structure, and greater influence from electronic and rock music are at the essence of their sound and style – and their third album is a further development of their approach. The first half of the LP in particular continues the melodic take on modern jazz which the band are known for. From the grand, sweeping textures of All Res to the uplifting melancholy of Quiet Mind, the trio alleviate any doubts that they’ve lost their emotive appeal.
Yet in the album’s second half, it becomes apparent that Man Made Object is also considerably more experimental than GoGo Penguin’s previous efforts. Album centrepiece Smarra begins with a pulsing bassline which quickly gives way, allowing the track to twist and turn before culminating in a sublime atmospheric finale which would make Kiasmos proud. Initiate opens with some exotic string manipulations which nicely lead into the familiar melodies of GoGo Penguin’s repertoire, whilst final track Protest features an upright bass assault, angular piano chords and wondrous drumming which collectively have more power than a great deal of contemporary metal tracks.
Ultimately, this may not be the band’s best work. It’s a little more hit-and-miss than their second album v2.0, and it certainly feels as though they’re holding back on their more adventurous ideas. Despite the experimentation, the group feel a little set in their ways, and the result is an album which is, comparatively speaking, slightly less remarkable. That being said, this is still a very good record, and a step in the right direction. If GoGo Penguin can take their more experimental leanings and run with them, they may be on the cusp of something truly great.