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Live At the Royal Albert Hall

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Album Review

As a venue, the Royal Albert Hall in London is the stuff of legend. It is so elegant it inspires greatness in performers no matter the discipline, as well as rapt and supportive attentiveness in audiences. Some of its past performers have included Frank Sinatra, a double bill by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. It therefore goes without saying that the weight on Cinematic Orchestra mastermind Jason Swinscoe to pull off something grand for a recording and video document of this CO performance was considerable. In order to accomplish this feat, he swelled the ranks of his group to over 40 members, including the entire 24-piece Heritage Orchestra! Vocalists Heidi Vogel, Lou Rhodes, and Grey Reverend are all present to reprise their roles from various selections on studio recordings. Original Cinematic Orchestra turntablist PC returned to the fold for the evening as well. The sound is as lush, lively, and beautiful as one could possibly imagine. Vogel's performance on the set opener, "All That You Give" (it originally appeared on 2002's Every Day), is just gorgeous. After Swinscoe announces her with a beautiful string intro, her soulful croon comes on full: sultry, emotional, and smooth. The dynamics and textures Swinscoe assembles with the strings and horn sections are as lush as a Gil Evans arrangement but as tight as Manny Albam's. There are truly expansive and adventurous moments here, as on "Flite," introduced by a Rhodes piano with the rhythmic pulse set in play by rolling drum breaks and a skeletal but beautifully articulate upright bassline. Solo space is accorded sparingly while incorporating the entire orchestra — the brass section (killer trombones), which becomes a bedrock for reining everyone in, is itself sassy and swaggering, holding the fort against edgy funky guitars and those dreamy piano chords.

This gives way to the spidery beginnings of "Familiar Ground," which seem like minimal soundscapes for single instruments abstractly lilting and disappearing in the ether until nearly the three-minute mark when the piece comes into view with its body. When the choral vocals announce themselves so wordlessly and surreally, the effect is complete and it goes on for another five minutes or so before Vogel turns in a stellar performance. Soloists are allowed to let fly in places and let abstraction into the fold for a bit before Swinscoe calls everything back to a lush and disciplined order. In concert, the track "To Build a Home," sung by guitarist Reverend with backing from Vogel, was more conceptual than arresting — seemingly owing much to Coldplay (God forbid) and the Moody Blues. Here it becomes a true Cinematic Orchestra offering, with a languid, sad, dramatic kind of tension without being overwrought. The appearance of the nearly 12-minute "Man with a Movie Camera" jam is wonderfully noir-ish and puts on display all that this group has to offer instrumentally. This ambitious composition and difficult arrangement, which walks a line between film music, late-era jazz improv, classical, and cabaret music, is still grounded — even with the cracking extended drum breaks; distorted turntable scratches; soprano, tenor, and alto sax flights; and guitar noise. The closer features Rhodes bringing her unique plaintive voice to "Time and Space." Its melancholy is heartbreak personified but balanced by a glimmer of hope, borne out by the dreamy, gauzy strings and countered with the ominous sampler and turntable sounds. As cellos and grand piano stretch the middle to accommodate both ends of this spectrum, the feeling of sadness and resolve is almost unbearable — not for the emotion, but for its indescribable beauty — before Rhodes is drawn back out to bring it, and the evening, to a close. The album is a truly moving demonstration of this group's amazing gifts; the DVD presentation will no doubt leave you open-mouthed in a quiet kind of awe.


Formed: 1999

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The brilliantly named Cinematic Orchestra is led by composer/programmer/multi-instrumentalist Jason Swinscoe, who formed his first group, Crabladder, in 1990 as an art student at Cardiff College. Crabladder's fusion of jazz and hardcore punk elements with experimental rhythms inspired Swinscoe to further explore the possibilities of sampling, and by the time of the group's demise in the mid-'90s, he was DJ'ing at various clubs and pirate radio stations in the U.K. The music he recorded on his own...
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Live At the Royal Albert Hall, The Cinematic Orchestra
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