It's been three years since The Cinematic Orchestra (TCO) last performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Then, a live album followed the adventurous electronic jazz outfit's acclaimed performance. Returning to celebrate the 20th birthday of their label, Ninja Tune, they again offered a transcendental soundtrack to imaginary movies that existed exclusively on wobbly reels in their fans' minds.
Ninja Tune has spent the best part of two decades establishing a dynamic back catalogue that includes Coldcut, Kid Koala and Mr Scruff. And in bringing together the Jason Swinscoe-led Cinematic Orchestra, Dorian Concept and the gravitas of the London Metropolitan Orchestra (LMO), the label was clearly pulling out all the stops for a birthday bash of atmospheric soundscapes.
Their efforts, though, were somewhat in vain. Despite a rapturous reception, TCO struggled to reach their soundscape-bending potential. Swinscoe undoubtedly has the talent and the required raw emotion for the giant venue – an atmospheric "Burnout" proved that – but there was little new from a band that has become well known for tracks advertising everything from Schweppes to Armani.
It wasn't until their final track, "Man with a Movie Camera", that the group got the best out of the LMO. A sadly lacklustre encore of "To Build a Home", a billowing ballad from Ma Fleur, summed up an evening short of new material and lacking the vocal dynamism that usually illustrates how well they combine artistic flair and musicianship.
Their die-hard fans, though, seemed loyally oblivious, offering countless standing ovations – because in the end, it was a night for devotees who still see the group as an electro-jazz outfit pushing the boundaries of musical experience rather than the new soundtrack for slick commercials and dinner parties where everyone is the designated driver.