The Cinematic Orchestra Live At The Royal Albert Hall

[Ninja Tune; 2008]

Styles: orchestral jazz, future soul
Others: The Heritage Orchestra, Portishead’s {Live At Roseland}

Jason Swinscoe's Cinematic Orchestra is not named in irony. This has never been more apparent than on their long-awaited live album. Recorded at the world famous Royal Albert Hall, Swinscoe enlisted the entire Heritage Orchestra (whose 2006 debut album is essential) to flesh out his jazz-fusion ditties. They stretch to new cinematic heights with over 40 musicians all feeling the same vibe. It has to be one of the most cinematic orchestras ever assembled. Thankfully the tapes were rolling on that early November evening, year of our lord 2007. I believe this live document will be regarded as Swinscoe and company's finest work for years to come.

Sadly, the beautiful Fontella Bass – who remains most famous for the 1965 hit "Rescue Me" and for receiving buzz in the underground for her work on Swinscoe's studio albums – suffered a stroke in 2005 and was no longer up for live performances. In her place, the oft warbling Heidi Vogel does an admirable job filling her shoes for two tracks off the most recent Ma Fleur and the signature track from 2002's Every Day, "All That You Give," which opens the concert on the right note. Although actually having Fontella would have put the first track well over the top, Vogel vibrates on a similar wavelength and the arrangement behind her -- rich in strings, saxophone, Swinscoe's keyboards, and the drums of former DJ Food member Luke Flowers, who is the backbone of the whole album -- easily makes the song more of an experience than the studio released version. Also immediately noticeable in the first track is the presence of original turntablist Patrick "PC" Carpenter, who fills in the few key electronic sounds from the originals that can't be reproduced otherwise.

All the tracks have a more laid back, improvisational feel than their professionally recorded counterparts. "Familiar Ground" doesn't start going here until after two and a half minutes of electronic manipulation and heavily reverberated electric guitar noodling. And then shazam: what was originally a mildly tense piano-driven number, "To Build A Home" swaps Patrick Watson for less renowned singer Grey Reverend and also piano for an acoustic guitar. It makes the track much folksier, almost Nick Drake-like, and when the strings come in, they seem more present than they would be with piano. They take you somewhere different.

Their version of "Time & Space" begins similarly enough to the studio one, except the bass and electric guitar takes a back seat. The live strings really power the track here. Lou Rhodes of Lamb fame showed up and graced the track with the same contemplative clout as on the record, but everything about the live rendition makes it sparkle that much more. It captures more of the spirit of jazz that beats naturally within their frameworks.

Over half of the tracklisting comes from 2007's Ma Fleur, which makes sense since it was recorded near that album's release date. However, if they want to make an At Budokan-caliber, definitive live record, I think we're going to need a double disc version with more attention paid to reclaiming the group's back catalogue. As is, I think Live At The Royal Albert Hall is their best release yet. And if there were just a few more career retrospective tracks on here, I don't think there would be any arguments about that.

Most Read