The Red Book
Simon Jeffes – creator of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra – died in 1997. His son Arthur, a composer in his own right, has been recording under the name Penguin Cafe since 2009. It’s both tribute to the spirit of his father’s idiosyncratic (not quite classical/so much more than just folk) compositions and it shows that Arthur Jeffes has his own music voice too – though there are Penguin Cafe Orchestra favourites in the live shows the music of the Penguin Cafe on record is all new works from Arthur’s pen and mind.
So The Red Book is Jeffes Jr’s new set of late night piano reveries and folk songs that incorporate elements of famous existing classical works. There’s a delight to the way Black Hibiscus slowly, surely evolves into a flamenco piece but the main melody is taken from Barber’s Adagio for Strings, you could almost wonder if 1420 was based around the intro to U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name too. Elsewhere there are moments that would certainly make Arthur’s father proud (Catania closely following the undulations of the best PCO material) and even when it does seem a little, well cafe-lite (Radio Bemba) the playing is always gorgeous, really quite delicious.
But it’s the moments where sorrow is conjured (And Yet…) and how, almost unexpectedly, that turns to a pastoral feeling of jubilation (Odeon) that remind you of what the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra did so well – the music always felt warm even when it kept you guessing.
The Red Book is lovely, sure, heart warming and charming. But it’s so full of smart (as well as lovely-sounding) ideas and it never feels like a soft copy, a lazily sketched out approximation of that wonderful music Simon Jeffes cooked up over three decades of strange and shining music. It’s both a continuation of the places the PCO took listeners and its own journey too.