I’d been waiting to see J.Swinscoe’s Cinematic Orchestra for almost a decade.
Back when our club night, Frigid, was around, Cinematic Orchestra tracks featured prominently in the late 90s and early 00s. Cinematic’s first few albums, Motion and Every Day as well as the alternative soundtrack for Dziga Vertov’s A Man And His Movie Camera are high water marks of those few years – capturing a period when the astral jazz period of Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were being re-explored (and re-imagined) by a new generation.
I don’t often walk out of live gigs. Especially not when I’m reviewing them.
Left without a visual backing and faced with a seated audience, a band’s live presence needs to leap offstage and grab the audience immediately – even if their latest recordings have been relegated to no name compilations featuring permutations of the words “art”, “chill” and “lounge”. Instead we get producer and composer Swinscoe politely introducing the band then standing back behind a laptop, arms behind his back, whilst his band plays, occasionally shifting to trigger an effect.
Now the band itself were fine musicians but, tonight, were without any presence. Vocalist Heidi Vogel ululated without conviction ending up sounding terrible, the drummer played as if bored, the saxophonist squawked then disappeared offstage only to reappear later in the same track, and the whole mix was dragged down by reverb and bass.
Sitting in front of the mixing desk is usually a good move – if you can be close to the mix engineer then you’re most likely to get good sound – but in this case the mix was so dire and dominated by bass that it was indistict and foggy. Brooklyn guitarist Grey Reverend (real name Larry Brown) redeemed proceedings slightly with his lovely modest guitar work but the damage had been done already.
As I sat there in the puddle of reverb and bass I thought back to those few years between 1999 and 2001. Surely my friends and I hadn’t been conned into thinking that this music was anything more than ‘contemporary jazz’ dressed up in shimmering ‘trippy’ effects?
This should have been much better. Indeed, on paper it should have been one of the best gigs of the past 12 months.
First night nerves? A new venue? Jetlag?
I expected more. Much more.