A Sunday night on desolate upper-Briggate’s Howard Assembly Rooms is not the most typical of settings, but Penguin Café are far from typical. As a ten-piece chamber jazz collective that ranges from Suede and Gorillaz members to Royal College of Music luminaries, the group that formed as the continuation of Penguin Café Orchestra is awash with musical proficiency.
Arthur Jeffes, son of the late vanguard composer Simon Jeffes, leads the group from the piano and harmonium and begins the set with a full run through of their new album, The Imperfect Sea. It is testament to Penguin Café’s musicianship that such complex arrangement can have such a soothing effect on the listener. Even during small-scale technical difficulty in the first half of the set, the group improvise and continue in a composed and good-humoured manner.
Originally touring in honour of Simon Jeffes after his death in 1997, the group’s sold out performances of Penguin Café Orchestra material led to the decision to become a permanent instrumental group, adopting the shortened title of Penguin Café. The performance highlighted how comfortable the collective is as both a continuation and its own entity. This was seen in the dedication of the concert’s second half to Penguin Café Orchestra covers, including the famous ‘Perpetuum Immobile’ and ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’.
Arthur Jeffes’ moving solo piece dedicated to Jeffes the former, which he first played at his father’s funeral, was the highlight of an extremely polished performance. The sheer range of acoustic instruments used during the ninety-minute set highlighted that this wonderful composition would probably best be categorised as world music, each piece adopting a different tone.
As an infant who was apparently played Penguin Café Orchestra music to lull me to sleep every evening, the somnolent effect has seemingly reversed since Simon Jeffes’ leadership evolved into Arthur’s: Penguin Café kept the audience transfixed with the visceral tones of melodies old and new.