Cinematic Orchestra, Ronnie Scott's, London

Can't stand all that jazz? Try some hip-hop, chill-out, funk
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When Ronnie Scott first opened his jazz club in 1959, the surrounding area of London was a pretty sleazy place. Now, Soho's been cleaned up to such an extent that even the glammest gay people feel right at home here. But changes in the outside world have not touched the inside of this live-music institution. Stepping into Ronnie's is like walking into a time-warp: you still expect the Krays to be seated at one of the banked tables, sharing drinks and cigarettes under the red lampshades with the likes of Barbara Windsor. All of which means that, with the rise in recent years of what might be termed "lounge chic", Ronnie Scott's would be the best venue in London but for one thing: jazz.

Now before you buffs out there start writing in, let me say this in my defence: there is a time and a place for jazz. The time is when I'm not in the room and the place is probably the New York of Woody Allen films. So put your poison pens down and pity me instead.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Ronnie Scott's for the Cinematic Orchestra, one of that new breed of bands for whom the only labels that matter are the ones on their graphic T-shirts. Is it jazz? Hip-hop? Soundtrack music? Soul? Lounge? Chill-out? Trip-hop? Funk? Stüssy? Bathing Ape? It's hard to say and it doesn't matter as the Cinematic Orchestra are a blissful law unto themselves.

One thing is for sure when you watch this fluid collective live: they can all play the pants off most of their contemporaries (and many of the more traditional artists who have graced this stage). In Luke Flowers they have a drummer who can see Gene Krupa and raise him. In Steve Brown they have a Fender Rhodes player who can switch from funky flourish to heartfelt soul faster than you can say Herbie Hancock. And the reason we are not shuddering at the sheer indulgence of it all, is that the Cinematics can also be as poppy and familiar as Zero 7, as danceable as James Brown, as sweeping and lush as John Barry.

And on top of all that technical know-how, they add the extra dimension of (look away now jazz fans) Patrick Carpenter on turntables and the group's leader and arranger Jason Swinscoe on "samples and effects". The results are unpredictable and breathtakingly awesome.

As befits this new generation of muso magpies, the Cinematic Orchestra do not play "songs": "This 'track' is called 'Evolution'," Swinscoe says introducing a glorious piece of music that features on their Man with the Movie Camera album but is here given vocal life by one Niara Scarlett.

That album - their third and most recent - is a pointer to the direction this collective is taking. Their second album, the brilliant Every Day, featured a song, sorry "track", called "Man with a Movie Camera" that was inspired by a piece of silent experimental cinema made in the Soviet Union in 1929. Then, in 2000, Swinscoe was asked if he would like to go the whole hog and write a soundtrack for the whole film. The result - played in front of a screen showing the original documentary - has been blowing audiences away all over Europe ever since.

But tonight is a stripped-down affair to raise funds for Denise Bayliss, who used to work for the band's management company and has been diagnosed with breast and bone cancer. It's a touching gesture on the band's part and a wonderfully uplifting concert all round. It reminds you that musicianship need not be indulgent, that practice makes perfect and that the future of music is in safe (and experimental) hands. Sure, there are odd moments when the soprano-sax-versus-sampler battle sounds like R2D2 chatting to C3P0. And yes, drum solos - even in Flowers' remarkable hands - can get a tad ho hum, what time is it again?

But overall, this is hipster music that is easy to lose yourself in and love as well as respect and admire. And that, even at a "venerable jazz institution", must still count for something.