Lounge, as in a jazz club. Penguin, as in GoGo Pengin, a piano/bass/drums trio. We caught their show at Jazz Alley in Seattle last week. Maybe you should go hit a jazz lounge sometime.

What happened was · My daughter turned eighteen and graduated high school. She had heard that Car Seat Headrest was playing Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and could tickets and a road trip (me buying and driving) be her present? Seemed reasonable, and she found a friend to take along. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Headrests (decent indie rock stuff) but her party, her friend. I noticed that GoGo Penguin was playing Seattle’s Jazz Alley, and Lauren was agreeable to coming along for the ride and the show.

I only know about GoGo Penguin because YouTube Music drops them into my default stream now and then. I’d thought “sounds good, maybe a little abstract”, couldn’t have named a song, but hey.

The “Jazz Club” concept · You’ve seen it in a million old movies, and the Vic Fontaine episodes of ST:DS9. The lights are low, the audience is sitting at tables with little lamps on them, the band’s on a thrust stage among the tables, there’s expected to be a soft background of clinking glasses and conversation. Some people are focusing in tight on the music, others are socializing at a respectfully low volume.

Of course, usually a gunfight breaks out or an alien materializes on stage… no wait, that’s just on-screen not real-life.

All jazz clubs serve alcohol — fancy cocktails, natch — and many will sell you dinner too. Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle is a fine example.

GoGo Penguin at Demetriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle

GoGo Penguin at Jazz Alley; June 20th, 2024.
Our table was in the balcony.

We had a decent if conventional Pacific-Northwest dinner (crab and halibut), with a good bottle of local white. They’ve got things set up so most people have finished eating by the time the music starts. The seats were comfy. The decor was pleasing. The service was impeccable. I felt very grown-up.

GoGo Penguin · They’re three youngish guys from Manchester. Their Web site says they’re an “emotive, cinematic break-beat trio”. OK then. Piano/bass/drums is the canonical minimal jazz ensemble. Only they’re not minimal and it’s not jazz. I guess if you redefined “jazz” as complex rhythmically-sophisticated music featuring virtuoso soloing skills, well yeah. Damn, those guys can play. But their music is heavily composed, not a lot of opportunities for anyone to stretch out and ride the groove.

And it ain’t got that swing; can it still mean a thing?

I guess so, because I enjoyed myself. There wasn’t a microsecond that was boring, plus the arrangements were super intelligent and kept surprising me.

But most of all, the bass. Nick Blacka hit me harder than any bassist since I saw (and blogged!) Robbie Shakespeare of Sly and Robbie in 2004.

It’s really something special. It may be a stand-up acoustic bass, but it’s wired up so he can dominate the band’s sound when he reaches back for it (which he does neither too little nor too much). Plus the instrument’s acoustic texture roars out entirely unmarred, you can feel those strings and wood in your gut. He moves between bowing and plucking and banging and you hardly even notice because it’s always the right thing.

I don’t wanna diss Chris Illingsworth on piano or Jon Scott on drums; both of them made me catch my breath. But it’s Blacka’s bass explosions that I took home with me.

That swing? · These days my musical obsessions are Americana (i.e. bluegrass with pretensions) and old blues. The first of which also features instrumental complexity and virtuosity. And, if I’m being honest, both offer a whole lot more soul than Penguins.

I respect what they’re doing. I’ll go see them again. But I wish they’d get the hell out from behind those diamond-bright razor-sharp arrangements and just get down sometimes.

Next? · Lauren and I had real fun and left feeling a bit guilty that we’ve been ignoring Vancouver’s own jazz clubs. Not that I’m going to stop going to metal or post-punk or baroque concerts. But jazz clubs are a good grown-up option.



Contributions

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From: John (Jun 25 2024, at 08:26)

Jazz Alley is a wonderful venue - I've been there many times. The last time I went was to see The Rippingtons (Russ Freeman is an amazing guitarist). Go Go Penguin are new to me - I'll definitely check them out.

Congrats to your daughter!

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From: lasersailor (Jun 29 2024, at 10:03)

Thanks Tim for the introduction to Go Go Penguin. I hadn’t heard their music until you brought them on my radar. Exactly the genre that I needed now.

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