Fans have been waiting a long time for The Cinematic Orchestra’s follow up to 2002’s highly acclaimed Every Day. Ma Fleur once again sees Jason Swincoe draw on the talents of a disparate group of performers, often from jazz backgrounds, to create the subtle, swelling orchestral sounds that reference the constructive forms of film soundtracks and prove devilishly difficult to describe.
As mentioned, there are quite a few jazz influences in here, but they also owe a debt to trip-hop pioneers like The Orb and indeed to Drum and Bass in places. Small wonder that Swincoe’s loose band of performers also include turntablists like Patrick Carpenter.
Ma Fleur is billed as the soundtrack for a film that hasn’t yet been made, which would clearly be a weepie if it ever were. Themes of lost love and mourning run through Ma Fleur in thick stripes.
Because he is interested in creating moods and conveying emotions, Swincoe structures his albums, as you might expect, to tell a story. He employs a wide range of singing talent who represent the viewpoints of characters in his tales. Veteran singer Fontella Bass (best known for the vocals on Rescue Me), who also appeared on Everyday, returns to lend her cracked gospel vocals to the slow and elegiac Breathe, and Familiar Ground.
A second, equally distinctive voice on the album is that of new discovery Patrick Watson, who duets with Lou Rhodes and sings several numbers himself. Watson’s voice is quite extraordinary, reminiscent of someone like Antony in its falsetto range, and it sometimes hard to tell whether all three singers represent the same person at different stages of their lives.
The album opens with Watson singing the haunting To Build A Home, and ends in resignation with Lou Rhodes’ throaty rasp on Time And Space starting the track off, which then stretches out into a piano-led, considered instrumental, both highlights. But the standout track has to be Breathe: there is something about aged voices, rich with wisdom, bound with years of technical experience, beginning to crackle but incorporating their weaknesses as well as strengths, acknowledging them, that is infinitely touching. Swincoe draws on this to create a deep sense of longing in his work.
With its frequent emotional crescendos, then quiet dying away, Ma Fleur is more than a match for its predecessors, and will undoubtedly cement The Cinematic Orchestra’s reputation as intellectually sustaining performers of beautiful, emotive music. Hopefully it will do more; this bridges the gap, so elegantly, between what people think of as ‘classical’ music and ‘pop’ music. It brings together is disparate influences perfectly so that while you can listen hard and dissect it if you wish, the result simply flows over you in wave after wave of delight.