Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cinematic Orchestra - Club Soda, 08/30/2008

Jason Swinscoe and his band of Brits touched down at Club Soda, appropriately enough, during the final weekend of the World Film Festival. I'm not that familiar with their music, having only listened to Man With a Movie Camera a couple of times, but I'm always curious how electronic musicians transfer their creations to live settings. This is especially heightened with Swinscoe, whose productions are reliant on jazz samples and live vocals.

Opener Grey Reverend, by his own repeated admission, had had too much to drink on the short flight from Brooklyn. I wouldn't mind seeing him again in a more sober set to make a fuller judgement. He's a solid guitar player, though I found his lyrics to be overly wordy and filled with self-conscious attempts at abstract imagery ("cauliflower girls and olive-skinned boys" was the only line I remember, and actually not quite as fraught with word games as the opening tune). His vocal delivery tempered an indie-folk style with the laidback drawl of Jack Johnson. The best song of the set, to me, was a tune called "Belafonte," with a strongly delivered melody, great rhythm guitar playing, and a rein on the Reverend's lyrics.

Once I got over the punishing subwoofer volume, with the kick drum and electric upright vibrating my chest and teeth, the details of the Cinematic Orchestra were quite provocative. Many of the tunes were started by Swinscoe, triggering a loop or arpeggiated figure from his laptop, and he'd be joined in the build-up by the rest of the band, who would gradually overtake him. It was really a case of presence being emphasized by absence - Swinscoe didn't feel the need to trample over the high-calibre band with his electronics. Nick Ramm's Nord Lead, Stuart McCallum's guitar ambiences combined with Swinscoe for lush textures. Featured vocalists were Reverend, Heidi Vogel with her soulful, honeyed alto, and "surprise guest" Patrick Watson. Watson was a guest last time the Cinematics rolled through town, and has a spot on the album Ma Fleur, and unleashed his delay-laden falsetto to heartbreaking effect, as usual. The highlights, for me, came when the band broke down to the quartet of Ramm, McCallum, bassist Phil France and drummer Luke Flowers. Saxophonist Tom Chant had a couple of solos, but his role was mostly blending in with the horn samples on the heads - he seemed content to let Ramm do most of the heavy improvisational lifting.

The fact that many of the tunes were in 5/4 or 7/4 with tremendously strong melodies called to mind jazz performer/composers that deal in similar sensibilities - Aaron Parks' Invisible Cinema, for one, and David Binney's work on Balance, South and Welcome to Life. I wonder what kind of overlap exists there - whether Swinscoe was inspired by Binney, or vice-versa, or whether they exist independent of each other and it's just artistic coincidence.

Other observations:
- To the very eager, older gentleman behind me who insisted on being conspicuous in his applause, his adulation for Patrick Watson, and incessantly repeating "My hands, my hands" during Grey Reverend's tune of the same name: I'm happy you're in late middle age, know who the Cinematics are and still go out to shows, but chill out. Please.
- A note to promoters and venues: it's nice to let journalists, especially photographers, know the rules of engagement before the set starts. My show-partner was repeatedly questioned as to why she had a camera, and unflinchingly gave her name and her outlet. She was escorted into the foyer of Club Soda by security to prove her identity, missing Patrick Watson's guest spot. If you're only allowed to snap the first three songs, it's nice to know that before the first three songs.

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