After a 12-year hiatus, several trans-continental moves, and various literally cinematic projects, the founders of The Cinematic Orchestra (Jason Swinscoe & Dominic Smith) felt compelled to reconvene the moody UK nu-jazz outfit for a recorded effort. The resulting album, To Believe, was released on Ninja Tune in March and has been making the rounds on KCRW playlists since it dropped.
Despite this hiatus, The Cinematic Orchestra is no stranger to the station or its listeners. Their vibes are classic KCRW sounds. Theirs is that elemental stuff of nighttime playlists alongside Groove Armada, Thievery Corporation, and Massive Attack. And when the Orchestra hit the stage at legendary producer Bob Clearmountain's Apogee Studio in Santa Monica, that nighttime vibe came to life in a major way. Having had only a few live dates performing To Believe on huge stages in Belgium, Amsterdam, France, and the UK, the intimacy of the performance and the audience's awe was palpable.
Before a brief interview with DJ Garth Trinidad the group took to the stage and launched into a set weaponized for longtime fans with bopping renditions of early cuts "Man with a Movie Camera" and "Channel 1 Suite." Some folks were swaying and others straight up two-stepping, some cats were holding their ladies close...the entranced audience members were definitely feeling the vibe.
Listening to Cinematic Orchestra playing live, in that space, really crystallized what makes them so special. As rooted as they may be in late ‘90s trip-hop, which is rooted in late ‘60s John Barry, they sounded remarkably fresh and immediate. They sounded like now. The timeless power of the upright bass.
After a strong opening set, Garth had a brief chat with Jason and Dominic in which he tried to get to a revelation of why they took such a long hiatus, as well as understanding the meaning behind To Believe. Their response, something about "being busy" with other things and not really feeling the "pressure" to make a new album could've come off as a bit elusive, but my sense was frankly that time was not of the essence for a group that at its core traffics in the "timeless."
Following the interview, they brought out their vocalist and longtime collaborator Heidi Vogel and new recruits L.D. Brown and Tawiah. The group launched into a track off the new album, "Wait for Now" with Tawiah, which was honestly one of the most breathtaking performances I've seen or heard in quite some time. She delivered a pitch perfect vocal, and speaking of time, you could feel it stop in the room. There was nothing but this moment. It was stunning.
Knowing they had everyone dialed right in, they performed "To Build a Home" with L.D. Brown on vocals and Heidi Vogel brought the A-game dive drip to her performances of "A Promise" and closed with a crowd-pleasing "All That You Give," which sent everyone home with a mega Kool-Aid smile like they were walking off a movie screen into real life and it was 1969. Or 1999. Or 2099.
The Cinematic Orchestra will make their return to Los Angles next fall (11/23), with an anticipated date at Walt Disney Concert Hall.