The murmur of voices inside The Apollo failed to dissipate during The Cinematic Orchestra’s two-hour exploration of experimental jazz and electronica. Yet, after desensitising to the constant chatter and directing attention solely on the music, the band provided plenty of powerful goosebump moments and opportunity for tuned-in audience members to completely zone out.
Following a warm-up performance from the band’s Ninja Tune labelmate Submotion Orchestra, sandwiched in between two Mr Scruff DJ sets, the individual virtuoso from the 14-strong cast developed delicately into an impassioned display of musicianship.
It was an undulating journey through a varied back catalogue that is as eclectic as their legendary label’s artist roster: other Ninja Tune artists include Mr Scruff himself, electronic producers Bonobo, Romare and Floating Points as well as the likes of Run The Jewels, Kate Tempest and Moiré.
The performance journeyed from initial low-key ambience in complete darkness. It then accelerated quickly and built to a crescendo under the glowing light show designed specially for the fourteen-date tour to promote new single ‘To Believe’ feat. Moses Sumney. (listen below)
In The Cinematic Orchestra, each member clearly has licence to show off a little. That was evident within the well-crafted setlist that shifted in focus as it ebbed and flowed. Sometimes raucous, sometimes gentle and stripped back to a single instrument – saxophone, drums or keys – or a single soulful voice that bellowed up through the building’s rafters.
Luke Flowers, on drums, laid the foundations for each performer to weave their sounds with his rolling rhythms and expertly timed drum rolls filling the occasional spaces in sound. Before Jason Swinscoe, founding member and bandleader, along with his assembled cast of string, bass and brass performers, lifted the room with their heart-warming big-band sound.
The last time The Cinematic Orchestra performed in Manchester was at Albert Hall in 2015. But The Apollo on Ardwick Green, despite any prior reservations about its suitability for the event, provided a fitting arena.
Standout performances included the powerful emotive vocals from Heidi Vogel who thrived as the centre of attention. The aforementioned Luke Flowers too, with his 'Whiplash'-esque masterclass in jazz drumming, didn’t go unnoticed.
The innovative sample looping of saxophonist Tom Chant was special as he indulged under the spotlight and overlayed his own sounds for a rapturously received solo.
Then there was the maestro Miguel Atwood Ferguson. Again, unconventional, with the LA-based multi-instrumentalist unnaturally morphing the sounds of his electric violin into flute chords. Finally, Moses Sumney fittingly ended proceedings on his acoustic guitar for a tender rendition of ‘To Build A Home’ (listen above) from 2007’s Ma Fleur album.
The show, perhaps because of the band’s name and origins – creating film and short-film soundtracks – felt like a motion picture in itself. The narrative shifted regularly under spotlights and between founding band members, acclaimed session musicians and spine-tingling vocalists who together make up one of the UK's most innovative and influential musical entities.
Ultimately, at the end, the band embraced and bowed in arms twice – both before the encore and when the triumphant show reached its final conclusion - then everyone filed out under the dark and atmospheric firework-filled sky.