The girl with the dragon tattoo, sat along the wall to the left in front of the stage, seemed to be enjoying GoGo Penguin, at least that’s what her smiles seemed to suggest. But the sustained general applause later from the 90 or so of the Stieg Larsson generation who comfortably filled the Vortex last night for these trio newcomers told its own story.
The Manchester scene piano trio were in London for their debut at the club following their short spot on a live Radio 3 broadcast during the opening night of last month’s London Jazz Festival.
Out of nowhere the trio, pianist Chris Illingworth; bassist Grant Russell; and drummer Rob Turner, have arrived in a jazz scene awash with piano trios but yet with their debut Fanfares manage to stand out.
The build-up to the gig was provided by trumpeter Matthew Halsall, head honcho of their label Gondwana, donning his DJ hat and spinning some vinyl, mostly vintage Blue Note and Impulse label gems, including the late Pete La Roca’s version of ‘Lazy Afternoon’, from side two of the drummer turned lawyer’s 1965 masterwork, Basra.
GoGo Penguin, and they’re not ashamed to say it, revere Larsson’s fellow Swedes EST and first track ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flaring up as it does with “pop chords”, a lot of fluid build and here characterful playing from Illingworth, is a tribute to Svensson who continues to cast a giant shadow over the scene and increasingly as the years rush by since his early passing.
Illingworth speaking earlier over a beer in the newly refurbished downstairs bar talked about how he was “blown away” by seeing Svensson at a concert in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall and spoke with understandable admiration about posthumous release 301 and the wonders of ‘Three Falling Free, Part II’, one of the many highlights of an album that was recorded in Sydney at the time of Leucocyte, the album issued just after Esbjörn tragically died in 2008.
Bassist Russell did all the talking after the band had run through a good sprinkling of songs from Fanfares and he demonstrated a certain charm in the way he spoke to the audience, self-effacing, a bit rambling, but likeable.
The pick of the live set for me was the title track, which has a grandeur the title hints at but plenty of improvising hedged around the pretty New Melodic themes. Turner has a good drum ’n’ bass feel driving the others on (he plays a bit like Magnus Oström but also heading over towards Richard Spaven’s sound a bit, so it could go clubby). I really enjoyed Russell’s playing. Is he the new Jasper Høiby? Well let’s see. He’s nimble, has great ideas, and has a ‘fatness’ that’s that bit different, full and defined but never lumpen or dull.
The GoGos travel with a soundman, which shows how switched on they are and each of the players responded on this sonic level playing field. The encore was Massive Attack’s Les McCann-sampling ‘Teardrop’ (“we’ve ran out of our own songs,” Russell quipped), a tune the girl with the dragon tattoo, and the rest of us, warmed to instinctively.
Live wires: GoGo Penguin, top. From left to right: Chris Illingworth, Rob Turner, and Grant Russell. Above: cover of Basra, and the Vortex sound box, band eye view. (First published in 2012.)