The Cinematic Orchestra

The Cinematic Orchestra


It’s been over 8 years since The Cinematic Orchestra played in Manchester. Suitably, this fantastic, ornate music hall is full to the rafters with nu-jazz fans of all ages, who are eager to welcome them back. Jason Swinscoe’s pioneering band, since the turn of the century, have helped to breath life back into a genre that was slipping into obscurity, blazing a trail for other simultaneously forward/backward-thinking artists such as Portico Quartet, Go Go Penguin and Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Orchestra.

As jazz musicians have a tendency to play in a number of bands at a time, getting the crew back together must be a tough order. Guitarist Stuart McCallum is absent but gladly, the ever-present and locally based drummer Luke Flowers is here to lay down a few awe-inspiring beats. While Patrick Watson’s melancholy piano and vocal drew the audiences during their Ma Fleur tour, it was Luke’s solo’s that blew the crowds away with their inventiveness and ferocity.

A strings duet that includes Miguel Atwood-Ferguson starts proceedings but unfortunately, much to my dismay, fails to halt all conversations. Many of the people who have queued around the block in the rain appear to have forgotten what they’re here for. As the woman behind me and her two male friends discuss how many drinks they can carry at once, they seem blissfully unaware of the wealth of musical talent that are illuminated on the high stage in front of them. What a bunch of absolute idiots. Seriously. Lots of shushing fails to rightly shut some people up, who obviously think that what they have to say right now is more worth listening to than the maestros who are performing before them.

Anyway… ‘Burn Out’ from 2002’s Every Day eventually kicks into life through Manu Delago’s percussion, with Heidi Vogel strolling on to the stage to provide a voice well worth listening to. Dominic Marshall’s keyboard solo’s thrill over Sam Vicary’s deep baselines, followed by an equally great sax solo from Tom Chant. Band leader Jason conducts from the side, behind his keyboard, prompting his players at choice moments to either quieten things down, or go nuts.

‘Child Song’ provides much of the same, before they try out some new material. Those who thought 2007’s Ma Fleur was too watered down will probably be disappointed to hear that the explosive element of their early work will most likely be even less evident on their next album. A minimal keyboard and xylophone phrase repeats for some time and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, until a cymbal-heavy beat and beautiful violin part make the wait worthwhile.

Musicians rotate onstage, providing something unique from each performance. I’ve never written so many notes. Guest vocalists Ruu Campbell and Rachel D’arcy, whose 81 year old grandmother is sat 2 seats away from me, each shine in their moments under the spotlight, singing their hearts out in quite incredible surroundings. Rachel’s lyrics “save me” ring out over a heartbeat kick drum, and delicate synth and strings. “I could change… what will I do… I’m just a child”. The hairs in the back of my neck stand up for the third time this evening. To be fair to the crowd, the reaction between songs is deafening and almost overwhelming at times.

There is, however, a hush as Heidi sings the lyrics to ‘Breathe’ – another highlight. After introducing the band, they raise the bar even higher with ‘Man With The Movie Camera’. Tom has free reign over this one and takes full advantage with his soprano saxophone. It breaks down and the beat stops for a while, building tension for a mighty crescendo of solo’s in a free-for-all, which gradually returns to the original melody that we all know and love.

13 musicians and singers are onstage, arm in arm, bowing to rapturous applause, and after plenty of foot stomping from those in the balcony, they return with a real crowd-pleaser. The hall is at it’s quietest as Larry Brown settles to play a solo acoustic guitar version of ‘To Build A Home’. The lyrics and melody of that tune are so powerful, nothing else is needed. A violin solo from Miguel complete’s a great version of a song that has gained great commercial success.

Of course, they finish big. Personal favourite ‘Ode To The Big Sea’ chugs into life with an infectious bassline and accompanying piano chords, before the brass section add a few simple extended notes that tie everything together beautifully. Luke’s drum solo drives the crowd berserk as usual… he’s been threatening to do that all evening. Heidi has the last word as they finish gently with ‘All That You Give’, yet another highlight from quite an incredible night. Jason films the crowd with his phone as they take a bow once more and spot their family and friends in the balcony.

The vocal performances tonight were strong enough to whet the appetite for a long awaited new album, and the older material was faithfully and brilliantly recreated, sparking waves of nostalgic euphoria amongst their passionate fans. Conversations did marr the experience to a certain extent, lets hope the majesty of the venue and the roar of the crowd between songs was enough to bring them back to Manchester sooner rather than later. Imagine if Lou Rhodes, Roots Manuva and Patrick Watson turned up…

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Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.