The Cinematic Orchestra
It's been nearly 5 years since the release of Every Day, The Cinematic Orchestra's finest moment, and anyone who was as totally captivated and seduced by that record as I was would have been eagerly awaiting Jason Swinscoe's next move. The difference between Every Day and Ma Fleur is not too dissimilar a progression from that of debut Motion and Every Day. 1999's Motion seemed to appear out of nowhere and totally went against the run of fashion for contemporary music. Its hypnotic jazz constructions and smoldering film-noir ambiance soon made The Cinematic Orchestra the jewell in the Ninja crown. The follow up took all of the mood from Motion but showed an amazing maturity in progression. It was single minded in its approach and totally dedicated in its focus. It was a truly timeless record and one that would be very hard to follow.
Ma Fleur shows the same degree of progression. Swinscoe has spent years learning from his last record and this is the sound an artist getting closer to his goal. It's a concept album of sorts and is adventurous to say the least. It's the soundtrack to an imaginary film and was constructed during an elaborate back and forth process between Swinscoe and a script writer. The instrumentals were created first then a series of short story scripts were written for these with each track representing a scene. Swinscoe then reworked the music in light of the script and the process continued. The album is supposed to map the journey we all go through from birth to death and the emotions that underpin the three main stages in life. It features three vocalists who represent these stages, starting with Patrick Watson then Mercury nominated Lou Rhodes and finishing with the legendary Fontella Bass who's deep, soulful vocals provided the majority of Every Day with such grandeur and here express perfectly the feelings of loss and regret of the elderly protagonist.
The scale of ambition of this project is awesome and it's what makes it so special, but also what lets it down in places. As always the quality of Swinscoe's production and collaborators is impeccable. Patrick Watson's opener To Build A Home is achingly beautiful and his crescendo vocal range matched with the soaring orchestration makes this song and much of Watson's input a clear highlight. The Cinematic Orchestra has always been synonymous with jazz but Ma Fleur relies less on these techniques. The mood of this grand concept is what is important here and that has dictated the form of the music, resulting in a much more orchestrated structure. It's this structure that really separates this from the other 2 albums. The clear cinematic feel to it makes it flow perfectly as a record and as a film score. The songs are hard to separate and it has obviously been constructed as a whole piece. There is a lot more space between the notes here and when the long delicate periods of orchestration are punctuated with the signature jazz sound it's quite powerful. It's far more contemplative and the definite narrative that runs through it makes it far less immediate than previous records.
This is an overwhelmingly melancholic record and its strict narrative results at times in an album that takes itself way too seriously. The initial beauty wears thin towards the middle and you just want everyone to cheer up. Thankfully the final track Time And Space finishes this journey off superbly. Lou Rhodes has such a delicate and tender approach that gives this song a real feeling of hope. It's a perfect finale and has the quality of a soundtrack to the closing scenes of an epic movie. In these final scenes everything is explained, the pain and sorrow are given a reason and amidst this explanation we are comforted and gently assured that the characters we have been following will be alright. This is a beautifully tender album and though it may not be as immediately satisfying as Every Day it is a worthy successor and continues Swinscoe's reputation as the visionary captain behind this ever pioneering vessel.