Background: The aptly-named Cinematic Orchestra (TCO) were formed by J. Swinscoe back in 1999. At the time Jay was still an employee at Ninja Tune in South London, where he was responsible for export sales at the long-standing independent record label. Swinscoe arrived at London Bridge from Scotland via Yorkshire and Cardiff with a background playing bass and guitar in bands and DJing, as well ... Read more in Amazon's Cinematic Orchestra Store
Wow, what a great concert! I was lucky enough to be at the Albert Hall and have been looking forward to this album; as I knew just what to expect. I believe this is the first time the Cinematic Orchestra have played live and been supported by a full orchestra and it gives them such a full sound. Excellent performances from the whole band, and a great selection of songs also.
Amazon buyers looking for Cinematic Orchestra CDs might find it interesting that there are two live albums that have been released in the last year - one from their gig at The Barbican and one from The Royal Albert Hall. The former was actually only a limited run available as a two disc set via the Concert Live service - which might partly explain the impetus to fully release the latter (on a single disc).
So how do the two releases compare?
Let's consider the similarities:
Child Song - The Barbican version slightly has it on Albert Hall as it's 2 minutes longer and has a slightly more cohesive sax solo from Tom Chant (but they're really very similar).
Familiar Ground - Albert Hall trumps it with a superior vocal effort from Heidi Vogel by herself over Eska & Vogel together on Barbican.
To Build A Home - Barbican wins hands down. This is Patrick Watson's song, the delivery of which he's nails. The stop-you-in-your-tracks-goosebumps feeling that Watson's sparse piano intro gives simply isn't replicated by the acoustic guitar playing Grey Reverend (whose vocals can tend to be a bit mumbled). Sure, the backing is fuller but the simple elegance of Watson's version isn't there. Reverend isn't terrible but it's like another rapper aping Roots Manuva's All Things To All Men (Cinematic Orchestra's best moment) - it'd be all wrong.
Breathe - Credit has to go to Vogel on Albert Hall who sits in for Fontella Bass better than Eska. Her voice has a depth and charge which comes across on the recording (plus, I bet she didn't need a book for the words - seeing them at The Sage, Eska read the lyrics for Familiar Ground and Breathe which was bizarre considering Familiar Ground's vocals essentially equate to "how near, how far" being repeated for almost 10 minutes...)
Ode To The Big Sea - A difficult choice. This has consistently been the THE track at live Cinematic gigs for some years now and it's great to hear the genuine musicianship of Luke Flowers (drums) and Tom Chant (sax) shine through. If you want more Chant, Albert Hall's for you - there are some weird and incredible noises coming from his solo! However, I prefer Barbican - Phil France on bass really gives it the edge. The respective solos from Luke Flowers are typically breathtaking - but the interplay with France on Barbican is particularly juicy.
But now, the differences. First, Barbican contains more music which is fairly obvious due to the extra disc - the extra tracks include:
Awakening Of A Woman (a gentle and powerful opener from the Man With a Movie Camera OST (which was actually a version of Burnout from Everyday) sets an aptly cinematic tone)
As The Stars Fall (which neatly shifts into Into You with Patrick Watson - as per Ma Fleur)
Man With A Movie Camera (long, brooding and brilliant)
Channel 1 Suite (a great live variation with an excellent contribution from Patrick Watson (again))
Rites of Spring (fantastic sweeping and edgy rendition of their encore track)
These tracks that you won't find on Albert Hall really make the set - especially the rework of Channel 1 Suite which was, pre-Ma Fleur, arguably their biggest track (it made it onto lots of generic lounge CDs) plus Rites of Spring is a special surprise that you won't find anywhere else (well, apart from the Ninja Tunes' You Don't Know Ninja compilation...).
Two more points about Barbican: 1) Patrick Watson - his vocal contributions to the set (apart from his red wine chatter...) are crucial. Ma Fleur was, in my view, given real substance and direction by his vocals - without him there'd be no To Build A Home, Into You or That Home - tracks which give voice to the emotional core of the project. So his live renditions of said tracks render Barbican essential for that reason. Also, he REALLY knows how to use his delay-pedal which takes Channel 1 Suite to a whole new level.
2) Barbican is also more 'live' - Jason Swincoe gets to introduce the band, chat with the crowd; there's the odd technical hitch, the tracks are given plenty of space....overall, the CD is a more accurate document of an evening.
But, Albert Hall definitely has its plus points too, such as tracks not on Barbican:
All That You Give (classic Cinematic track ably assisted by Heidi Vogel)
Flite (an oft requested favourite - blistering drums and perception-shifting keys)
Prelude (which is essentially just the strings from As The Stars Fall - if you've got The Heritage Orchestra you might as well use them!)
Time and Space (with Lou Rhodes - which is gloriously performed)
The main plus point with Albert Hall is Heidi Vogel on her own - she is simply better on Familiar Ground than when she's with Eska and gives Breathe a truer rendition. Eska's a great session vocalist - I particularly liked her on 'Still Here' by Stanton Warriors (slightly different music context!) but Vogel sits in Fontella Bass' shoes more ably. Eska has said "I can't be Bass, so I try to do my own thing" - which is fair enough but Bass gives the heart to Breathe and if you can get close to it, in my eyes that's a good thing. I don't want to labour the point too much because Eska is perfectly able but Vogel is as well - but more so.
All things considered, I'd choose Barbican over Albert Hall - the range of tracks is better, Patrick Watson is there and it's a slightly more 'complete' experience. That said, Albert Hall is still fantastic with more guests - Rhodes, Vogel, PC and The Heritage Orchestra being positive contributions (Grey Reverend's already been discussed) and tracks Barbican doesn't have. If you can track Barbican down (check the Concert Live website) and you're a Cinematic Orchestra fan then get that. But, if you're a huge geek like myself you'll probably get both anyway. Here's to real music.Read more ›
I'm no jazz authority at all, nor was I there on the night, but really, if you enjoy jazz and extemporization, and this doesn't float your boat, then check for a pulse! Soulful, playful, panoramic...just a delight. Heidi Vogel's vocals are breathtaking, the whole thing is simply suffused with sheer musical ability, depth and expression.