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Jazzfest: Classical wizardry meets the freedom of jazz

By Alejandro Bustos on June 25, 2015



Let’s play a game of “what if”.  As in: What if Chopin, Miles Davis and DJ Shadow were playing in the same concert?  What would a blend of classical music, jazz and instrumental hip-hop sound like?

Luckily for local music lovers, we now have an opportunity to hear what such a magical concert may have been like thanks to GoGo Penguin, who are playing this coming Sunday, June 28 at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

This brilliant trio from Manchester, U.K. combine a wide array of influences to produce a fabulous audio mix.  While staying true to their jazz roots, the group samples from such diverse genres as classical music, trip-hop and cutting-edge rock.

“As a pianist, a couple of my favourite composers are Chopin and Rachmaninov,” says Chris Illingworth, the group’s piano player, in an interview with Apartment613.  “I’ve been really inspired by the way they would create multiple voices within their piano music and I’ve tried to use this technique in the way that I play.  I’m also really into Steve Reich and John Adams and love their loop-like patterns which are often more rhythmically important than melodically.”

Listening to GoGo Penguin’s music is a true joy.  Jazz chords combine with classical riffs, while electronic-inspired beats intermingle with beautiful piano melodies.  It’s no wonder, then, that the group has draw critical acclaim for their two recordings to date, the most recent being v2.O that was released last year.

With this blend of innovative jazz and classical precision, however, I wondered how much of the group’s music was improvised, and how much was composed with precise ideas in mind.

“It’s pretty much 50-50,” replies Illingworth.  “The initial ideas and sketches for tunes tend to be organic and more from the gut.  However, occasionally the foundation for a track might come from experimenting with compositional techniques or something more theoretical.  Then when we develop the music to its finished state, again its half and half.”

By why stick with a jazz foundation?  After all, this is a group that is so talented they can play pretty much anything they want.

“The three of us have come from different musical backgrounds,” says  Illingworth about his fellow bandmates Nick Blacka on bass and Rob Turner on drums.  “However, there are some shared musical influences/preferences/etc. and one of those was jazz.  Jazz includes improvisation as a major element of its style and the freedom we found in improvisation was something we wanted to keep as an important part of our music.”

Given that this is the first time that GoGo Penguin has visited Canada, this Sunday’s show offers a unique experience to see this wonderful trio perform live.

GoGo Penguin perform at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage on Sunday, June 28 at 8 pm.  Tickets are $25.