What is a jazz trio? A band at a classy wedding, featuring a clean sound and a dash of schmaltz? Experimental trios GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands shatter this perception, delivering blends of electronic, classical, and jazz. Both bands have new albums and are on tour.
Mammal Hands features a sax that seems to soar and quiver, and a piano that dances alongside it—sometimes leading, sometimes following. The Norwich-based trio, featuring Nick Smart (piano), Jesse Barrett (drums and percussion), and Jordan Smart (saxophone), describes their sound as “wistful and melancholic and sometimes raucous, catchy and explosive.”
Mammal Hands’ sophomore album Floa is fluid and repetitive. Tracks begin gently and build steadily, often lulling the listener into a trance with looping melodies before escalating into sharp, saxophone-fueled crescendos, such as on “Hour Glass.”
Influenced by composer Steve Reich, electronic band Bonobo, and jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, the trio creates a layered sound with world music elements, particularly through percussion. Drummer Jesse Barrett plays the tabla—higher-pitch drums frequently played in northern India.
Mammal Hands scored a deal with Gondwana Records at the recommendation of fellow British jazz trio, GoGo Penguin.
GoGo Penguin—pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner—describes their music as “hard-hitting jazz meets electronica.” The trio often takes on experimental soundscapes. Last fall, they rescored and performed at a showing of Koyaanisqatsi, a 1982 documentary about man’s retreat from nature into technology.
GoGo Penguin continues to explore modernity on Man Made Object, released on the iconic Blue Note Records label. The ten tracks integrate punchy piano notes that seem to honk like car horns, repetition evoking assembly lines, and crescendos that feel like revolt.
But the album is emotive, not robotic. “It’s like a man-made object that has become humanized and it seemed like a good album title, one that also means something different to each of us, and hopefully to each listener,” says Illingworth. Check out the music video for Man Made Object’s opening track, “Al Res.”
GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands don’t belong in the background; rather, they demand the listener’s attention with exotic instruments, catchy melodies, and steady repetition. Despite the complexity of their songs, the trios maintain a balance between their three elements. Different instruments lead at different times. The two bands are experimental but accessible, and their music is sometimes dissonant, sometimes beautiful. Beauty makes a repeated melody worth repeating.