The Cinematic Orchestra

On Ninja Tune

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 as a head full of ideas and influences, such as his love of jazz bass players, rhythm sections and film soundtracks. So while he knocked out Mr. Scruff and Coldcut records to Spain and Scandinavia by day, he began putting together the TCO album in his downtime. 

‘Motion’: Taking on the role of bandleader, Swinscoe rallied a group of adventurous jazz players and delivered a debut album that took everyone by surprise and was voted album of the year by listeners to Gilles Peterson’s Radio One show. It’s a record which emphasises the ‘cinematic’ in the Cinematic Orchestra, with Uncut likening it to "every hard-boiled, neon-lit Hollywood thriller you’ve seen, the sound of a thousand femmes fatales, doomed P.I.’s and bitter plot twists remixed and refashioned in one ingeniously sampled audio narrative". 

‘Every Day’: If ‘Motion’ reflected the cinematic aspect of TCO, their second album ‘Every Day’, brought out more of the orchestral side, too. Arguably a more refined record than its predecessor, it is uncompromising in its approach nonetheless. On ‘Every Day’, Swinscoe worked with bass player Phil France as his co-pilot and co-producer, France’s background in jazz the perfect counterpoint to Swinscoe’s technical knowhow and emphasis on raw emotion. The pair flew out to St. Louis to record the legendary Fontella Bass (of ‘Rescue Me’ and Art Ensemble of Chicago fame) for the single ‘All That You Give’ and ‘Evolution’, both of which appeared on the album. Closer to home, they enlisted the talents of Mercury and Brit nominated South London rapper Roots Manuva on the soul searching ‘All Things To All Men’. 

Live: In the last three years the Cinematics’ have played far and wide at every conceivable type of venue and on all kinds of occasion. They have shocked out from the Jazz Café to the Jazz Bop via Ronnie Scott’s. And in somewhat hardcore fashion they toured the North American Jazz Festival circuit in the back of a transit van, with the dates culminating in a prestigious support slot for John McLaughlin in Central Park. 

They have toured in Germany, Japan, Italy and Portugal. They have also clocked up the music festival mileage appearing at, amongst others, Homelands and Essential (UK), Sonar (Spain), Celerico De Basto (Portugal), North Sea Jazz and Drum Rhythm (Holland), Cannes (France), Fuji Rock (Japan) and Montreux (Switzerland) and have headlined The Big Chill twice. Other live highlights include playing at the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Stanley Kubrick by the Directors Guild. 

‘Man With A Movie Camera’: Suitably enough for a group who have become something of a household name in Portugal, Swinscoe and co. were commissioned to write and perform a new score for Dziga Vertov’s avant garde 1929 silent film ‘Man With The Movie Camera’, as the opening event celebrating the northern Portuguese city of Porto’s year as European City of Culture for 2001. 

As a big fan of film soundtracks, Jay set about the mission with great enthusiasm. Following some frenzied rehearsals somewhere in South East London, the band performed Swinscoe’s soundtrack live in Porto’s splendid Coliseu theatre in May 2000 in front of an audience of 3500 and received a tumultuous ten minute standing ovation for their troubles. 

In November 2002, Swinscoe was fortunate enough to come by some downtime at legendary specialist soundtrack studio, Whitfield Street in London. Over two days the Cinematics, along with a string section and percussionist Milo Fell, laid down what Swinscoe and France hope will be their definitive version of the soundtrack. This was released with the movie on DVD by Ninja Tune in the spring of 2003. 

Travel: In 2004, Swinscoe relocated to Paris, which slightly altered the balance of work between himself and France during the making of “Ma Fleur” (and was also responsible for its French title). Then in 2006 he moved again, this time to Brooklyn, New York. Jason is the first to acknowledge that this has had a direct impact on his creativity: “I think the cities I’ve lived in have had an effect on my perspective both personally and musically. The dynamics of a city changes the energy and pace of all things, but particularly music.” 

‘Ma Fleur’: In Paris, Jason began work on the instrumentals, which would form the basis of his new record. Having completed a rough version by early 2005, he gave this to a friend who disappeared for 3 weeks and came back with short story scripts in which each track represented a scene. Jason then took this and worked some more on the tracks, and in turn gave this back to his scriptwriter, the two aspects of the project developing alongside one another. This yet-to-be-made movie gave Jason the emotional and narrative impetus he needed to develop the pieces and, in particular, led him even further into his exploration of song than he had previously gone. “For me, I think it became a natural evolution to enquire into that whole new world of the song form,” he says. “Also I think the ‘sceenplay’ experiment led to a need for a much more direct relationship to words and stories. So it still has links with film and narrative, in fact was driven by it.” 

The Current Band: Over the years, the membership of Cinematic Orchestra has gradually evolved. Alongside core members Swinscoe and Phil France is Tom Chant, a fixture at left of centre jazz gigs all over the world, saxophonist Chant is known as one of the UK’s top free jazz players. For ‘Every Day’ young drumming legend Luke Flowers was recruited, who had played together with France for a number of years as youthful stars on the northern jazz circuit. New members for the current incarnation of TCO are Nick Ramm - a pianist from London who has played with Matthew Herbert amongst many others – and Stuart McCallum, a guitarist from Manchester, whose subtle, six string antics have slightly changed the dynamics of TCO’s sound on their new record. The shows will also feature vocals from Patrick Watson and special guests on selected dates.

The Cinematic Orchestra Headlines

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