Some folks say Cinematic Orchestra play acid jazz, a/k/a downtempo, a/k/a middling, vanilla sushi beats. This stems from an association with the Ninja Tune label, and it’s crap. Saying that Cinematic Orchestra play downtempo is like saying Can played rock ‘n’ roll. They—the Orchestra, led by the English-born, New York–based Jason Swinscoe—craft slow, sultry songs, but the tunes reach far beyond the realm of spliffs and drum machines.
Composed by Swinscoe and featuring the voices of Patrick Watson (whose hauntingly diaphanous whir smacks of Antony & the Johnsons), Lamb’s Lou Rhodes, and—most notably—soul diva Fontella Bass (lady sang “Rescue Me”!), Ma Fleur is a gorgeous wash that never loses its way. While earlier efforts veered toward jazzier techniques like brushed drums and even the odd 5/4 tempo, these tracks are gauzier, with themes and instruments floating in and out—horns, woodwinds, strings, pianos, acoustic guitars, and that trustworthy stand-up bass.
“This is a place where I don’t feel alone/This is a place where I feel at home,” sighs Watson. “I’ve built a home for you.” These lines bookend the record, most appropriately—Swinscoe’s vision is truly otherworldly. The group has always aspired to write music for imaginary films, and
Ma Fleur is the Orchestra’s most cinematic achievement to date.
Cinematic Orchestra play Central Park Summerstage July 7, and Joe’s Pub July 8, summerstage.org and joespub.com