Bob Boilen

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early '70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world "where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room." Eerily accurate.

Patrick Jarenwattananon has been the backbone of our jazz coverage almost since NPR Music started in 2007. Patrick came to us as a 22-year-old intern and shortly after began covering legendary and rising jazz luminaries like a veteran journalist. His writing for A Blog Supreme captured the spirit of the jazz community and was a rich resource for thoughtful coverage on this living American musical culture.

The Ballroom Thieves is a folk trio with a cellist at its core. Singer Calin Peters and her bandmates, guitarist Martin Earley and percussionist Devin Mauch, have now teamed up with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra on a music video for its song "Bury Me Smiling," and the combination makes for a compelling song.

Eliot Fisk looks like the happiest man on the planet. Watch that face as he plays guitar. Between performing music by J.S. Bach and partnering with the world's best flamenco guitarist, Paco Peña, Fisk can barely control his joy. I find his exuberance and their performance undeniably brilliant, inspiring and so completely universal.

Our goal for this special holiday Tiny Desk Concert is simple: to bring you joy. Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a hot and historic outfit from New Orleans, and its members brought us a tuba-wielding Santa and some original holiday cheer and praise — what they call a Cajun Christmas from the French Quarter.

Maya Beiser's Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She's a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she's tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove. Then there's her magnificent sense of melody.

How can music be happy and sad at the same time? Listen to Olafur Arnalds and you'll hear it. Depending on your mood, the tone changes, and a song that may have been uplifting one day sounds like an elegy the next. It's spacious, undeniably beautiful work. Much of the music performed in this concert, recorded on April 18 at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City, is drawn from the Icelandic musician's recent album For Now I Am Winter.

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