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The Cinematic Orchestra’s mix of trippy dance loops and jazzy breaks was the brainchild of the bandleader-producer Jason Swinscoe. Formed in 1999, when the druggy dance scene was beginning to unravel, the orchestra appealed to those brought up on ethereal background noise and repetitive motifs who were now tired of the incessant thud of club music. The Cinematic’s mix of samples, orchestral tones and live, occasionally free, jazz, while hardly earth-shatteringly original, fitted this audience demographic perfectly.
This gig, advertised as live performances from new album Ma Fleur, opened with an instrumental from their previous album, Every Day. Looped thumb piano introduced a simple modal theme played over a jazz waltz, fleshed out by a live string quartet. Though samples varied, the tone was set – simple ingredients made to seem sophisticated.
On the older material, the formula was spiced up by the free-jazz leanings of saxophonist Tom Chant and pianist Nick Ramm. Chant is a competent rather than virtuosic saxophonist with free-jazz leanings, and nonchalantly professional when dealing with the screech of feedback that greeted many of his solos. Virtuosity came with drummer Luke Flowers’ solo on “Ode to the Big Sea” and the vocals of Eska Mtungwazi, who could give a catalogue of computer accessories emotional significance. Here she was restricted to repeating “How Near, How Far?” and the short verse of “Breathe”.
New members Stuart Macallum on guitar and vocalist Patrick Watson gave recent material a rockier edge and a more introspective feel. Watson’s falsetto is haunting and Macallum is fond of echo effects, but the finale of “Man with a Movie Camera” was a necessary lift in mood, and led to the three-tune encore.
Although the musical components fit together nicely, the overall effect is somewhat cosy. Their audience-targeting, however, is astute. As I left, a long queue waited for their copies of the official, on-the-spot, limited edition, feedback-free double CD of the concert.