Cinematic Orchestra

Formed in 1999, The Cinematic Orchestra has always had a unique sound. With their unusual blend of jazz and electronics, they’ve had a successful run of underrated hits that have featured in movies and television, including Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds and One Tree Hill. For a teaser performance, they have played at the Arts Centre’s new Hamer Hall as part of the Melbourne Festival.

Frontman Jason Swinscoe, a former DJ from South London, plays the electronic sounds, blending them artfully to create soft, husky acoustics. Swinscoe embarked upon his musical journey at the tender age of eight, learning guitar and eventually forming his first band Crabladder in 1990 while he was a university student. Crabladder performed similar experimentation with music, creating hybrids of punk and jazz, before the group separated and Swinscoe went on to form The Cinematic Orchestra, a band of a more soulful effect, with a mellow bluesy jazz sound.

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Swinscoe is magic to watch; as the music sweeps over him, his whole body changes as he undulates to his rhythm. Joined by fellow songwriter/jazz experimentalist Stuart McCallum, this dynamic team pioneers a new and sensational sound. Beside them on double bass, Phil France plays a beautiful support, and drummer Luke Flowers dominates with his incredible percussions. Nick Ramm is poetry on his majestic grand piano, and Tom Chant is nothing short of magnificent on sax and clarinet. But the one who owns the stage with a simple guitar is solo artist Grey Reverend. With his simple style and pure voice, Reverend is so poignant, he moved his audience to tears.

Every member of Cinematic Orchestra brings something dazzling to the stage of Hamer Hall, and each of them has a solo performance during the night, but the real treasure is the ensemble work they do. Supported by the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, the collective musicians create a kaleidoscope of heavenly sound, especially when vocalist Heidi Vogel takes the stage. Her voice is so rich it seems to crystalise the music, like a modern day Etta James.

The Cinematic Orchestra does unusual things with music, breaking the rules of “normal” orchestral sound and creating their own vibe. Traditional rhythms seem to be abandoned in pursuit of something not only very contemporary, but also quite unrestrained. At times, to a tradionalist’s ear, it may stumble a little and come off as a tad muddled, but overall, their experimentation works where it ought not to. The final effect is quite spiritual and free, without becoming cacophonous and undisciplined. And of course the visual effects of the unparalleled Hamer Hall are just stunning, with hues of royal blue, purple and turquoise drifting across the stage in wisps of smoke.

Significant credit must also go the support act, the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, who under the guidance of a very gifted conductor, manage to sweep in and out of musical crescendo without any lyrical assistance. Their flawless use of brass and wind instruments is rivaled only by their own ethereal incorporation of a stunning six-foot harp.

Regretfully, this ephemeral performance was one night only, but The Cinematic Orchestra has many future shows lined up across the world. Tour dates can be provided at A sensational way to reawaken the soul.

The details: The Cinematic Orchestra played at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on October 11.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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