The Cinematic Orchestra

For jazz fans who don't like electronica, and electronica fans who can't stand jazz, the Cinematic Orchestra offers a reconciliation that approaches miraculous...Motion (1999) establishes a new kind of mood music. It has the repetitive minimalist patterns of electronic beat music combined with the looseness and free improvisations so fundamental to live jazz.

artist:
The Cinematic Orchestra

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Nu jazz, breakbeat, ambient jazz, lounge, soul

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Motion (1999, Ninja Tune)
  • Every Day (2002, Ninja Tune)
  • Horizon e.p. (2002, Ninja Tune)

Reviewed by Mike G

For jazz fans who don't like electronica, and electronica fans who can't stand jazz, the Cinematic Orchestra offers a reconciliation that approaches miraculous.

Its mastermind is Jason Swinscoe, a DJ and longtime employee of electronic breakbeat label Ninja Tune. His love of both genres inspired him in the late 1990's to try a new approach to the fusing of the two, which up until that time in the world of electronica usually consisted of sampling records and looping. Instead, he played a selection of his collected samples to a hand-picked gathering of jazz musicians. Recording the resulting jams and then combining the two with digital production techniques, he released the resulting debut album Motion (1999).

Motion was at the time is a new kind of mood music. It has the repetitive minimalist patterns of electronic beat music combined with the looseness and free improvisations so fundamental to live jazz. The grooves, strings and brass draw on retro soundtrack styles - Ennio Morricone, jazzy spy soundtracks, bachelor pad music - but the spectral ambience and sense of space that Swinscoe brings to his production strips away any kitsch and makes his music sound utterly contemporary. The spare vocal bytes on the mainly instrumental Motion can be stunningly effective; check the female vocal loop that ricochets over the swirling, dreamy, dark groove of "Channel 1 Suite".

In between the Orchestra's first and second proper albums are several other releases of note. Remixes 1998-2000 (2000) is a fairly random and uneven collection but hardcore fans might enjoy the band's re-imaginings of jazz and nu jazz numbers from labels like Talkin Loud and ECM. The non-essential soundtrack album Man With A Movie Camera (1999, but released 2003) also dates from this period and again is quite erratic. Some tracks are excellent variations of music that would appear on later albums; a number of others falter when removed from images of the classic Russian silent film.

The magnificent Every Day (2002) is the band's proper 2nd album and captures Swinscoe's project at its creative peak. Unsurprisingly it's a bit more polished than Motion and the band's style is now well established. The album's title track starts out in an exploratory jazz manner, before moving into Afro vocal samples and developing the kind of flowing, celestial groove that Ninja Tune label-mate Bonobo has made his specialty. On the vocal front the scattered vocals of American soul singer Fontella Bass on a few tracks is evidence of the respect Cinematic Orchestra has won outside the electronic sphere; not that this is is a heavily electronic record, anyway. The ten-minute instrumental "Burnout" is outstanding; a deceptively simple groove based on just two short, repeating chord progressions. But its hypnotic pull and gently playful melodies make you wish it would never end, which it does in a slow, euphoric rush of organs, trumpets and clarinet (an even better version of this track re-titled "Awakening If A Woman" appears on the earlier Man With A Movie Camera soundtrack). A kind of encore to Every Day is the e.p. Horizon (2002) containing three excellent pieces. The highlight is the remix "Evolution II" on which the band's turntablist Mr P. aka DJ Food drenches the original version in achingly beautiful strings and fast, feather-light poly-rhythmic beats.

Since the early 2000's, new music from the Cinematic Orchestra has slowed to trickle. Newcomers to the band's music would do best to avoid the studio album Ma Fluer (2007), a collection of shorter, song-orientated pieces which often sounds like the work of an entirely different act. Fans, however, should find the film soundtrack Crimson Wing (2008) interesting, and some of the latter-day live albums are worth investigation including Live At The Royal Albert Hall (2008).

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