“Why are you going to a jazz concert?” friends kept asking me. “You hate jazz.”
“It’s not a jazz gig,” I kept telling them, tossing them my MP3 player and suggesting they listen to Ma Fleur. “The Cinematic Orchestra are all about sampling and subtle soundscapes.”
“Well it says they’re jazz in this newspaper/website/review,” they all retorted.
Ever think you should listen to your friends more often?
Trooping up to the dizzying, and pretty full heights of the Royal Albert Hall’s Circle, where the seats gave off clouds of dust when whacked, I was expecting one of two things: a precise but somewhat clinical recreation of their latest album, Ma Fleur; or some exciting, experimental electronica.
Then the orchestra came out, and arrayed themselves behind the spotlit centre stage where a lone turntablist was treating us to some superior lift music over the chatter of the increasing crowd. I don’t on the whole approve of “added orchestra”, largely because it’s frequently the bombastic recourse of overblown rock bands who really don’t need the added layers of sound. But I told myself that there were opportunities for rich and delicate interplays between the traditional orchestral instruments and samples, and that it really could be quite good. I suppose having a proper ‘orchestra’ for the Orchestra was one of the selling points of the gig. If it wasn’t I’m hard pressed to work out how anyone was persuaded to part with so much money for the experience.
I was hoping for energetic experimentation, after all I’d heard great things about the Cinematic Orchestra’s live shows, but what I got for the first 30 minutes was a strangely schizophrenic mix of musical styles, bad acid jazz with distorted vocals on the opener All That You Give, which came over like a moribund Massive Attack, moving into saxophone freak outs into which the orchestra inserted themselves with all the grace of a hippo in a tutu.
And then the terrible folk singing at the end of the first half. What was going on there? That was what did for me. There seemed to be no attempt to use the orchestra in an interesting way when they were called up on to play, which wasn’t often, and no attempt to rescore the material to suit them. Their parts just seemed bolted on to what my partner described as “Level 42 on acid”.
There was nothing innovative or challenging about the music that night. The most ‘experimental’ bits were nonsensical jazz noodlings, without structure or any seeming goal – I may not like jazz, but I can understand the hows and whys of it. This stuff, however, was pointless and, frankly, sounded amateur, like someone trying to be musically hip 30 years too late. On record The Cinematic Orchestra are, at the very least, interesting; on stage they were a tedious hodgepodge of styles that so many others have done better than they could manage. I won’t be back for more.