Members of the Penguin Café Orchestra - Music From The Penguin Café - Review
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critics' view

The Penguin Café Orchestra, founded by classically trained English guitarist, composer and arranger Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann, were now 4 years old; it was time for an album of works to be realised. Their debut was actually a collection of pieces recorded in the preceding couple of years as both a quartet and sextet. The quartet were: Simon Jeffes (electric guitar), Helen Liebmann (cello), Steve Nye (electric piano), and Gavyn Wright (violin). Tracks 2-8 were billed to “Zopf”, which included the members of the quartet as well as Neil Rennie (ukulele), and Emily Young (vocals).

Home for this first long-play offering was Brian Eno’s Obscure label, renowned for supporting the avant-garde and the more experimental artists. Difficult to classify, the PCO would certainly come into both of these categories. Their music, largely instrumental, veers from light to dark, folk to classical, playful to earnest and a whole lot else besides. You never quite know what to expect next, and I like that about them. My favourite from the quartet is the album’s opener, “Penguin Cafe Single” presumably so titled on account of the appealing tunefulness of the thing. It’s a big starter. Best from the Zopf sextet, for me, is “Giles Farnaby’s Dream” based on the 16th century piece “Giles Farnaby’s Dreame” which, not unsurprisingly, was composed by Giles Farnaby, a noted keyboard composer of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It’s really quite marvellous – melodic, hypnotic and certainly evocative of a bygone age. I don’t yet know it to be a fact, but it’s my strong hunch that these randoms are sure to have something special on every album from here. They’ve got a hook in me.

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