The Cinematic Orchestra, The Roundhouse, London
Wednesday 11 November 2009
The Cinematic Orchestra defy classification. Is it jazz? Electronica? Hip-hop or trip-hop? Or movie soundtrack music? What is obvious, though, is that the shape-shifting outfit formed by John Swinscoe in the late 1990s does not lack musical conviction. Which other band could perform an hour-long instrumental accompaniment to an 80-year-old silent Soviet movie and be confident of a capacity crowd?
At the Roundhouse the band presented the first night of In Motion, an audiovisual show in which a selection of short films are shown with newly created scores.
Some band history is required here. The Cinematic Orchestra's second album, the captivating Everyday, featured "Man with the Movie Camera", a track inspired by a piece of silent experimental cinema made in the Soviet Union in 1929. The band went on to write a score for the entire film – to be played in front of a screen showing the original.
At the Roundhouse, by way of a warm-up, they debuted original soundtracks for two classic short films, Manhatta (1921) and the Dada-influenced Entr'acte (1924). Mixing shuffling percussion and roaming drums with relaxed pianos, melancholic strings and jazz horns, there was no sign of the group's previous struggles with the constraints of live performance. They captivated the audience with a set of pure musical indulgence, occupying an emotional, nocturnal world.
The Cinematic Orchestra – citing the Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann as an inspiration – use a small cluster of notes to create tension and release. Even the upbeat "Burn Out" uses just three notes for the saxophone. The encore showed they can also be poppy, and the atmospheric "All Things to All Men", with guest star Roots Manuva, was a real crowd pleaser.
However, a performance of "To Build a Home", a powerful, billowing piano ballad from Ma Fleur, the group's fourth album, would have been appreciated and if there was a negative, the tension seemed at times too drawn out. The visuals, too, were not always demanding of attention – they seemed an artistic warm-up to the obligatory encore of old favourites.
In the end, it was these dynamic vocal tracks that illustrated just how well The Cinematic Orchestra combine artistic flair and great musicianship.
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