Penguin Cafe Orchestra frontman Simon Jeffes, pictured up above there, died 20 years ago. On the anniversary of his death (December 11, 2017), the surviving members of Penguin Cafe Orchestra will play the band's last album, Union Cafe, in full in London. To prep listeners for that event, the record is being reissued via Erased Tapes this Friday. It remains the very best sort of unclassifiable release, full of music that touches the heart and produces a sense of sonic wonder in an attentive listener.
From the Irish jig of "Organum" and on to the drone-rock of "Thorn Tree Wind", the tunes here on Union Cafe span a host of styles. The 1993 album, the band's last record, deals in a kind of jazz in spots, but it also features a number of piano-centered numbers, like the lyrical "Silver Star of Bologna", that charm and inspire still. And to say that is to sound surprised that wry instrumental numbers like "Nothing Really Blue" could somehow age, or become dated? The very genius of Penguin Cafe Orchestra was a blithe disregard for trends, or stylistic bandwagons passing by. The group produced the purest of musics, with the minimum of pretension about the whole endeavor.
On the whole, Union Cafe remains an engaging, if long, listen. It is the sort of record that really and truly has no easy comparison points, especially as the record segues from the lite jazz of "Kora Kora" and into the chamber pop of "Lie Back and Think of England", near the album's conclusion before the gallop of "Passing Through" officially closes this record (ahead of a "hidden" track, that is). Those little jumps in style sound jarring on paper but make perfect, magical sense in the universe created by Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Union Cafe will be out via Erased Tapes on Friday.
More details on Penguin Cafe Orchestra, including the upcoming concert in London, via the band's official website.
[Photo: Matt Anker]