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A modern chamber ensemble

Signs of Life
Signs of Life
By Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Editions EG: 1987

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This review first appeared in the September/October issue of A Critique of America.

This wonderful, warm, melodic music is driving people who love to categorize things crazy. Is it classical? Jazz? New age?

The band's latest release, "Signs of Life," is as beautiful as the earlier efforts. The instrumentation is closer to chamber ensembles than anything else, with cellos, violins, piano and bass. But the group then adds ukuleles, cuatros, shakares and kalimbas to give it a traditional, folk element as well.

The compositions draw from both folk and classical sources, with melody lines and harmonies borrowed from folk traditions and woven into classical structures.

Simon Jeffes, who plays everything from ukulele to bass to piano, wrote all the material here. Cellist Helen Liebmann adds a warm, rich sound to the playing, and Bob Loveday's violin is also prominent.

By creating a unique sound composed of musical threads long considered disparate, Penguin Cafe Orchestra is stretching musical boundaries in a way that can only continue to yield intriguing results.