GoGo Penguin: Everything Is Going to Be OK
Format: 24-bit/48kHz WAV download
GoGo Penguin’s new album, Everything Is Going to Be OK, arrived April 14 on CD, LP, and download, about nine months after the band’s EP Between Two Waves was released. Like that EP—the band's first record since moving to Sony’s XXIM Records—the LP features the band’s new drummer, Jon Scott, and integrates the occasional synthesizer in the mix. The trio has used studio technology to alter and process its sound in the past, but now it has embraced electronic keyboards to help it move in some new directions.
For the most part, piano, drums, and bass remain at the center of GoGo Penguin’s music, with synths adding sound layers and color to the arrangements. The springy synth line on “Saturnine” establishes the rhythmic flow of the track, which gives Scott a chance to show his firm grasp of the breakbeat-influenced style that was previous drummer Rob Turner’s specialty. Pianist Chris Illingworth uses a Modular Synthesizer to lay the groundwork for “Glimmerings,” but develops the song’s melodic themes on acoustic piano, with the synths filling in behind him.
Scott gives “We May Not Stay” a hard-rock slam that morphs into a looser, faster beat as the song evolves in tempo and mood. “Last Breath” is a feature for Nick Blacka, whose sturdy bass lines remain supple as they move through Illingworth’s keyboard washes. Illingworth alternates between a Korg Prologue-16 and acoustic piano on “Friday Film Special,” the Korg giving an ethereal quality to the music. “Everything Is Going to Be OK” is perhaps the most overtly rock-influenced song GoGo Penguin has recorded, with Scott’s energetic drumming powering the track.
GoGo Penguin’s unique mixture of jazz, rock, electronica, and other genres remains intact, as does its ability to write memorable tunes that convey a strong range of emotions. Blacka’s bass-playing is exciting and fast-moving without overpowering Illingworth’s expansive chording and melodic flights. Scott adds both finesse and muscle to the group’s compositions. I found the sound of the download, which is somewhat compressed, to be the right choice for the music. GoGo Penguin has expanded its sonic palette on Everything Is Going to Be OK, and in doing so has created one of the trio’s most affecting recordings.
Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orkest: Olympians
Modern Recordings 538845581
Vince Mendoza is currently the music director and honorary conductor of the Metropole Orkest, with whom he recorded his 15th release as leader: Olympians. He wrote, arranged, and conducted the nine tracks on Olympians, and they show his broad range of interests and talents as a composer.
“Quixote” features percussionist Alex Acuña and the track is a good example of Mendoza’s ability to skillfully blend jazz, classical music, and rock. The Metropole Orkest’s Marc Scholten solos impressively on soprano sax with aid from various sections of the orchestra, and Acuña’s percussion meshes with Martijn Vink’s drumming to keep the song aloft. The composition moves through several sections, changing in dynamics and orchestral colors without feeling rushed or overstuffed.
Dianne Reeves sings “Esperanto,” a Mendoza tune with lyrics by Kurt Elling. Reeves brings a cool passion to the philosophical lyrics, and shines on a section of scat singing in a Latin-jazz style, which is enlivened by the wonderful interactions of the trombone and flute sections. Cécile McLorin-Salvant is featured on “House of Reflections,” which Mendoza and Norma Winstone wrote in tribute to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. The evocative and beautiful arrangement provides a warm, luxurious background for McLorin-Salvant’s bewitching voice and meticulous phrasing.
Peter Tiehuis’s edgy guitar solo on the opening of “Miracle Child” segues into a series of movements that convey drama and atmosphere in the manner of a ’70s film-noir soundtrack. Tiehuis’s deft, funky rhythm guitar helps to give “Big Night” its soulful vibe, and his fiery solo is matched in conviction by Leo Janssen’s tenor-sax feature in what sounds to me like a fine tribute to the Philly International house band.
Saxophonist Chris Potter guests on the grand and occasionally moody “Barcelona,” and David Binney plays a blistering alto-sax solo on the hard-swinging “Lake Fire.” The soloists in the Metropole Orkest, including trumpeter Rik Mol and pianist Hans Vroomans, match them in skill and ideas. Guitarist Tiehuis has several features on Olympians and I’m eager to hear any sessions he’s led.
The stars of Olympians are the Metropole Orkest and Mendoza’s captivating and challenging compositions. The Dutch ensemble’s musicians easily negotiate Mendoza’s changes in genre and tone, and the first time I played Olympians I made the mistake of thinking it was too polished. When I returned for a second listen, I heard the fervor and intelligence that the Metropole Orkest brought to Mendoza’s remarkable compositions.
Bernie Grundman mastered the recording and cut the lacquer for the vinyl release of Olympians. My copy of the LP was quiet and flat. I compared it with a CD-quality WAV file of the album: the LP had more low-frequency heft, and gave me a sense of the impressive scale of the Metropole Orkest, but the digital version had a bit more dynamic range. Regardless, both formats allowed me to enjoy this music.
En Attendant Ana: Principia
Trouble in Mind Records TIM174
If the number of times I have returned to it is any indication, the French quintet En Attendant Ana’s Juillet was one of my favorite rock albums of 2020. Margaux Bouchaudon’s voice is appealing and her lyrics are intelligent, Camille Fréchou’s occasional trumpet lines give the group’s post-punk sound a unique vibe, and the group’s songs are built around great, ringing guitar riffs.
Principia, the group’s third album, is even stronger. The writing and playing are more assured, and the arrangements are more subtle and layered. On the title track, guitarist Maxence Tomasso’s arpeggios and the sparking guitar chords behind them sustain openly, and Bouchaudon’s vocals are solidly up front. The ear-catching riffs that run through “Ada, Mary, Diane” are supported by Vincent Hivert’s thumping bass line, and the arrangement gives all the instruments in the band plenty of room. Fréchou’s witty saxophone lines in the chorus add immeasurably to the song’s impact.
At just under six minutes, “Wonder” is the longest track on Principia. Guitars and synths envelop Bouchaudon’s voice on the unhurried opening minute of the tune as she sings the first two verses. The track then picks up speed, and Hivert’s sharply played bass line locks in tightly with Adrien Pollin’s drums as the song intensifies. Keyboard effects dart in and out and Bouchaudon sings these lines several times, varying them in intensity and emphasis:
I’m a good human being
My mama said
I hope she’s right
Who am I fooling?
Where’s the tape
The guitars cut harder and more percussively as the song moves along. About two-thirds of the way in, Bouchaudon sings a wordless vocal, bathed in reverb, and the effect is magical.
Principia is filled with delightful surprises that pulled me further into the songs. Bouchaudon’s delicate vocals on the lovely “To the Crush” contrast with a brief, slightly spiky solo from Tomasso that points to something complex and unsettling in the song’s message. Fréchou’s free-jazz solo at the close of “Same Old Story” injects an unexpected element into a song that already contains sudden changes in rhythm. The rolling synth line in “The Fears, the Urge” give the tune a giddy current of joy that Fréchou mirrors with a beautifully developed trumpet solo.
Juillet was a great record, but Principia is a significant step forward. The songs are richer and more melodically varied, and the players are more confident. Hivert’s bass lines are consistently inventive, and Pollin’s drum work is so understated it’s easy to miss how much he brings to the songs. Tomasso’s strong guitar lines help fill out the songs, and Fréchou’s saxophone is a welcome addition to her instrument lineup. As it was on the earlier album, Bouchaudon’s voice is at the center of Principia, but the more spacious arrangements and melody-driven songs highlight her central role in En Attendant Ana.
Hivert and Bouchaudon recorded and mixed Principia, and Paul Rannaud mastered the recording. I was stunned at the immediacy and amount of detail in the vinyl cut of the LP. My copy of the 180gm LP was flat and quiet.
After hearing Principia, I’m anticipating En Attendant Ana’s next album with more excitement than any other band I can think of.
. . . Joseph Taylor