The Cinematic Orchestra's careful publicist didn't claim a sell-out on this November, 2007, concert because one of the Royal Albert Hall's 5,500-odd seats went unclaimed. But still, the near-capacity turnout amounted to quite a coup for an outfit still perceived as “underground” after four studio albums.
Founder, main songwriter and non-playing captain Jason Swinscoe, a Brooklyn-based Scot, focused on material from the Orchestra's last two albums, Every Day and Ma Fleur. The group reaches their melancholy high-water mark when heartstring-stroking arrangements of strings and horns combine with a voice and a song. "All That You Give," "Familiar Ground," "Breathe" and "Time and Space" juxtapose orchestral panoramas with near silences — bar a drumbeat or the odd piano chord — into which singers Heidi Vogel (a stirring substitute for Fontella Bass's original recordings) or Lou Rhodes pour soulful humanity via brushstroke lyrics, emotional moments and images stripped of narrative.
Live at the Royal Albert Hall isn't the place for Cinematic Orchestra newcomers because Swinscoe sometimes allows too loose a rein to the musicians'old jazzer instincts (see "Ode to the Big Sea"'s drum solo and painfully “free” sax squeaking). For the most part, though, they play with rare weight and beauty.