Penguin Café Orchestra, Music From The Penguin Cafe

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra

One of the more popular releases on Brian Eno's experimental Obscure label, Music From the Penguin Cafe is the 1976 debut of composer-multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes's Penguin Cafe Orchestra. While suffering from food poisoning in the south of France, Jeffes feverishly imagined "wild, free, mountain people creating sounds of a subtle dreamlike quality." Thus inspired, his music for electric guitar, cello, electric piano and violin sounds like a beautifully-updated take on Johann Pachelbel's baroque compositions.

A beautifully updated take on Johann Pachelbel’s baroque compositions

Although it clocks in at "Hey Jude" length, "Penguin Cafe Single" is an evocative classical gas of a tune, and a perfect miniature of Jeffes's spiritual sensibility. It sets the scene for "Zopf," a seven-part invention with at least two sections — "From the Colonies (for N.R.)" and "In a Sidney Hotel" — that bear more than a faint resemblance to Eno himself. The latter especially, with its Japanese evocation of a "double suicide," resembles an Another Green World outtake. At nearly 12 minutes, "The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away and It Doesn't Matter" extends a sweet, simple melody to just the point of diminishing returns. Jeffes's lovely yet limited bag of tricks only threatens to wear out its welcome around the time "Chartered Flight" takes off.