THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA
Live At The Royal Albert Hall
Ninja Tune 2008
09 Tracks. 67mins38secs
Jason Swinscoe has had an interesting time deciding where to steer The Cinematic Orchestra. On its first release, Motion, the Orchestra was a sample-heavy nu-jazz project, exploring and crossing the lines between jazz and hip hop’s more abstract forms. Two years later, the Orchestra switched gears to perform a tight, manic score for Dziga Vertov’s classic, Soviet-era, silent film, Man With A Movie Camera. Following this was Every Day, the most fully realized Cinematic Orchestra album, moving further toward the abstract hip hop side of the equation it introduced with Motion, and progressing toward a looser and more exhausted sound. Most recently, Swinscoe and co. retreated with Ma Fleur, a delicately revitalizing soundtrack to an imaginary movie.
It’s easy to digest The Cinematic Orchestra’s albums as individual units, but thematically, one wouldn’t expect songs from different periods of its history to sit side-by-side too well. Remarkably, on Live At The Royal Albert Hall, Swinscoe has put together a show that flows flawlessly as a cohesive whole, and, like the best live (re)arrangements, forces the listener to reconsider his/her relationship with these songs. Augmented by a live orchestra, Live recasts the Orchestra’s pieces in a light that lends itself to improvisation and more present crescendos; an unexpected but very welcome change of pace.
Opener All That You Give, the Orchestra’s signature song, sounds immediately different. The majestic-yet-claustrophobic instrumentation of the studio version, is replaced by a fuller sounding orchestra, and features a new, screaming saxophone solo. As a replacement for the legendary Fontella Bass, Heidi Vogel has some big shoes to fill, but her vibrato-laden wail works sublimely to deliver a line like “Can you hear me raving? Do you see me crying?” Flite, the only other song on Live lifted from Every Day, is rescued from its overly rigid studio version to become a lively, mysterious explosion of music. It’s impressive to hear a live drummer keep up with the jungle programming of the original, while the addition of what sounds like a noisy electric guitar, and orchestral strings, makes the piece sound like the spy-movie anthem it was apparently meant to be. Never before has the “Cinematic” in the Orchestra’s name been so appropriate.
Ma Fleur thrived on sparseness, empty spaces, and reserved vocals, so it is interesting to hear how its pieces (which make up six of the nine selections here) translate to such a multifaceted live setting. Familiar Ground swirls into being, with audience excitement and applause heating up as the song’s swinging, two-note intro marches forth. The orchestration is more front-and-center here than on the album, while Vogel (again filling in for Bass) perfectly nails the trembling soul that this vocal performance demands. Breathe, meanwhile, betrays the more subdued tone of the original for a bursting, climactic crescendo. The impact of the studio version is changed, but not at all diminished.
Ode To The Big Sea, the only track representing Motion, undergoes the most radical translation here. At almost three times the length of the album version, the live Sea takes the phrases of the original for a five-minute spin, before breaking down into a series of unbacked solos – drums, then horns, then some time for the DJ to shine – before returning for a few more laps around the main theme. It’s the closest to pure avant garde jazz the Cinematic Orchestra has come, yet it wears its distinctive hip hop flavor proudly on its sleeve. After this, Time And Space falls back a bit, as Ma Fleur’s most impressive song takes its place as an emotional grand finale. Featuring Lamb’s Louise Rhodes on a spot-on vocal delivery (of which this album has no shortage), the lush orchestration brings the depth of the original into another dimension. Time And Space runs through one final, and brief, climax, before fading away.
The feeling one gets upon completion of listening to Live At The Royal Albert Hall is similar to finishing a particularly affecting novel – emotionally drained, with a lot to think about, and somehow, all the better for it. In an era where bootlegging and file-sharing have made the standard-issue live album obsolete, Live draws from existing Cinematic Orchestra material to paint a new picture, one well worth seeking out.
The Cinematic Orchestra | Ninja Tune
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