Curated by DJ Gilles Peterson, this double bill unites two of the hottest young jazz acts from either side of the Atlantic, both playing out national stereotypes. Manchester trio GoGo Penguin are all British reserve and EDM geekiness, while saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his octet are all American extroversion and hip-hop swagger (rather fitting for someone who was the star of Kendrick Lamar’s last album).
GoGo Penguin have just signed to Blue Note records but are uncomfortable with the “jazz” tag, largely because little of their work is actually improvised: their metrical piano themes and fluttering drum and bass rhythms sound as if they’ve been carefully plotted on graph paper. This approach perfectly suited Veils, a collaboration with choreographer Lynne Page’s eight-piece ensemble. Page’s balletic street dance recalls the fight scenes in West Side Story and was particularly impressive when each lift and spin synchronised perfectly with each juddering rhythm change.
If GoGo Penguin’s neurotic minimalism is all superego, Kamasi Washington – here playing his first UK date – is all id. There are some tight harmonies with trombonist Ryan Porter, but this is an octet defined by expansive, garrulous solos. A lengthy reinvention of Debussy’s Clair de Lune starts as a delightfully sleazy R&B ballad in 6/8, runs through several exploratory improvisations, and mutates into a hard-swinging jazz waltz. On Change of the Guard, they hit a Pharoah Sanders-ish spiritual intensity; while Henrietta Our Hero – a ballad dedicated to Kamasi’s grandmother – features some tasty flute playing from Kamasi’s father Rickey Washington.
Having two drummers, Showaddywaddy-style, rather forces up the decibel levels: pianist Brandon Coleman occasionally switches to Hendrix-style keytar in search of volume, while bassist Miles Mosley uses various auto-wah and phase pedals to make his instrument sound like Miles Davis’s trumpet (or, occasionally, like a burglar alarm). But this double bill was still a staggering, absorbing spectacle – proof that jazz is still very much a living, breathing, evolving form.
• The London jazz festival runs until 22 November.