the CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA with SUGARMAN 3 part of the JVC Jazz Festival Wednesday (June 20) at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen's Quay West). Free. 416-973-3000. Rating: NNNNN
jason swinscoe insists he isn'ttrying to pull a fast one with his sprawling club jazz project the Cinematic Orchestra, but you have to wonder.Listen to his epic productions and it's impossible to tell where the tape stops and the real beats begin.
On records like the Cinematic Orchestra's remarkable Motion debut and a handful of remixes Swinscoe's done under the Cinematic banner -- collected together last year as Remixes -- it's a case of man meshing with machine.
Acoustic bass and snaking saxophone solos swirl together with head-nodding beats, a roomful of strings and the occasional bit of 21st-century studio trickery.
It sounds like the hippest band in jazz jamming along on the best bits from classic Italian porno soundtracks and Alice Coltrane records. When the illusion is so compelling, it's understandable why Swinscoe, from his post behind the sampler, is reluctant to pull back the curtain.
"It's not like I set out to confuse people or pretend we're something we're not," he laughs from his London pad. "I'm just trying to make the biggest-sounding records possible.
"It can be really frustrating. You end up trying things and banging your skull against the wall because what you hear in your head isn't what you get on tape. A lot of tracks were worked on for months and then trashed."
Swinscoe's skill at blurring the line between samples and live instrumentation pushes the art of sampling to a different level. Begun as a one-person project in his vinyl-stacked studio, the Cinematic Orchestra has since evolved into a full band, with a revolving cast of support musicians and Swinscoe directing the action.
The band concept has become essential to his progression. Some tracks feature dozens of samples, everything from a subtle thumb piano to the neck-snapping bass line that steers the cuts. Others have been built around a snippet and have then had that sample removed entirely. There are, Swinscoe admits, only so many things a sampler can do.
"In a way, this project is an homage to jazz players I really like," he explains. "I have quite an extensive collection of jazz, African and soundtrack records. I didn't know any musicians and didn't feel comfortable enough playing these instruments myself, so I would find a little groove here and a groove there that I could build on.
"I found that I was restricted by samples and that I was losing a live feeling -- you chop things up too much and samples end up being little one-liners. I wanted to keep the acoustic sound, so I decided to mix it up between live and samples.
"It isn't easy, though. The amount of time it can take to create just the sound of a drum kit is terrible. Sometimes tracks from the first album would take three or four months to complete."
The hard work is worth it, though. In combining loops with live playing and getting the most out of his sampler, Swinscoe has brought an element of raw emotion to electronic music. Beyond wailing divas and prefab soul samples, it's a rare characteristic in big beat music.
"For me, emotion is imperative," he agrees. "The best music is there to move people. It's a story, it's got dialogue and it's like communication.
"I want my music to function on the dance floor as well as when you're chilling out in the back garden or getting horny with your girlfriend."
That drive for emotion manifested itself visibly during the recording of the forthcoming Cinematic Orchestra album, particularly during a session for the dreamy soul-jazz track All That You Give, with legendary jazz singer Fontella Bass.
"We were in St, Louis recording with Fontella, and there was a point where, after doing a few takes and listening back to them, she broke down and started crying," Swinscoe says. "That nearly made me cry as well.
"What she put into that music was almost spiritual, and those things are really important for keeping music alive. If my music has that effect and influence on someone, then I'm doing something right."
With the new Cinematic Orchestra album now almost finished and scheduled for October release, Swinscoe's attention is fully focused on his ongoing transition from DJ to live bandleader.
The live incarnation of the Cinematic Orchestra playing for free Wednesday (June 20) at Harbourfront Centre is a half-jazz-band, half-club set-up, with live drums, bass and horns mashing it up with turntables and Swinscoe himself on samples.
Beats clash with improvisation. It's a rare experiment; most other producers with similarly grand studio dreams usually give up on a live set and simply end up on DJ tours.
"It's a challenge," Swinscoe laughs. "The albums are very controlled. A lot of the ideas are very explored. Here, there's no control at all.
"It's totally live, without any DATs. Everything changes each night and is a lot closer to jazz than your typical electronic music show. We're not reproducing the track note for note and beat for beat."
Considerably more challenging for Swinscoe is getting respect from the music that inspired him to mess with the sampler in the first place.
In spite of their name and their cinematic way of arranging tracks, soundtrack work hasn't exactly been falling into the film-obsessed Swinscoe's lap.
"We haven't been asked," he laments with obvious disappointment. "I was actually asked to submit some music for Bruce McDonald. He'd heard the first album and asked me to submit 17 minutes of music for his new film.
"I gave him a main theme with variations, a real old-school thing. I thought it sounded good, but we didn't get the film. Now I'm just waiting for the phone to ring."
Cinematic Orchestra brain tust Jason Swinscoe may not have had much luck rounding up soundtrack work so far, but that hasn't affected his addiction to rare and obscure film scores from around the world. The man knows his stuff. Here are his three top soundtracks:
Eleni Karaindrou Suspended Step Of The Stork "It's quite a heavy orchestral record from Greece. Very beautiful."
Bernard Hermann North By Northwest "I just like Hermann's ideas about how to express tension and release and how, with the click of the fingers, he gets the right mood. He also was big into repetition, which is what so much of today's club music is based around."
Alain Gorageur La Planet Sauvage "Gorageur was Serge Gainsbourg's orchestrator and arranger for those 50s and 60s swing albums. A great record. Spooky electronic music.