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Penguin Cafe: Handfuls Of Night

Mark Sullivan By

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Penguin Cafe continues in the tradition of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, producing individualistic minimalist music using acoustic instruments. Previous album The Inconstant Sea (Erased Tapes Records Ltd, 2017) dabbled in dance music, with versions of Simian Mobile Disco and Kraftwerk tunes. This time the theme is the Antarctic: Greenpeace commissioned composer Arthur Jeffes to write four pieces of music corresponding to four breeds of penguins, to help raise awareness for the endangered Antarctic seas. So Jeffes (who has visited the Antarctic, and feels a personal connection to the place) expanded on that core, composing additional music intended to evoke the landscape and the lives of its penguin denizens.

It is a sound a bit closer to the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra (including once again featuring a new interpretation of a classic tune by Arthur's father Simon Jeffes). And despite the theme, the music is far from cold. "Winter Sun" opens the set with a cloud of strings, from which a repetitive piano pattern emerges—finally fading into string atmospheres. Closer "Midnight Sun" has a similar dynamic, but it features Jeffes' piano, with just a bit of Neil Codling Khono's synthesized accompaniment. "Chinstrap" is the first of the penguin portraits, a lyrical exploration anchored by cellist Rebecca Waterworth's singing melody. "Chapter" presents a soaring string melody with percolating percussion underneath and a driving pulse.

"Adelie" uses piano and harmonium to establish a rubato feel, featuring a double bass solo from Andy Waterworth. "Pythagoras on the Line Again" revisits Simon Jeffes' exploration of the principles of harmonics (underlaid by a pulsing organ in place of the original dial tone sounds) from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Union Cafe (Zopf, 1993; reissue Erased Tapes Records Ltd, 2017) in a longer, brasher version. The final two penguin portrayals are "The Life of an Emperor" and "Gentoo Origin," both cinematic treatments with full stings.

Another winner from this group, with Jeffes and company mixing minimalism, folk music and classical string writing into a charming combination. However familiar the musical components may be, Penguin Cafe blends them into something all their own.

Track Listing: Winter Sun; Chinstrap; Chapter; Adelie; At the Top of the Hill, They Stood…; Pythagoras on the Line Again; The Life of an Emperor; Gentoo Origin; Midnight Sun.

Personnel: Arthur Jeffes: piano (1-9), harmonium (3-8), percussion (2, 3, 5, 7), melodica (5); Vincent Greene: viola (2-8); Darren Berry: percussion (2-8); Andy Waterworth: double bass (2-8); Neil Codling Khono: acoustic guitar (2), granular synthesis (1, 2, 4, 9); Des Murphy: xylophone (2, 3, 7, 8), Sunrise Portable Organ (6); Tom Chichester: Clark harmonium (3, 5, 6, 7); Cass Browne: percussion (2, 3, 6, 7); Oli Langford: violin (2-8), Stroh Viol (1), viola (7, 8); Rebecca Waterworth: cello (2-8); Additional string arrangements by Oli Langford (2, 3, 7, 8) and Vincent Greene (8).

Title: Handfuls Of Night | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Erased Tapes Records Ltd.

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