I first stumbled upon The Cinematic Orchestra sometime around the time of their second album Every Day. While it didn't have the creative edge of some of the jazz canons, it was an enjoyable release that sated the appetite of those looking for some nu-jazz atmosphere. Ma Fleur is the first album from J. Swinscoe and gang in almost four years now, and like their Man With A Movie Camera release, is a score. While the aforementioned release was actually created for a real movie, though, Ma Fleur is largely composed around short story scripts for a film that may or may not ever be filmed.
That it's based on a series of supposed narratives doesn't really matter in the long run, because for the most part the ten track and just under fifty minute album sounds sort of like what you might expect from the group.
Okay, scratch that. In actuality the release sounds like a much more watered-down and commercialized version of what I've come to expect from the group. Other than a small flourish at the end of the second track "Familiar Ground," (that features some moaning vocals from the normally noteworthy Fontella Bass), there really isn't anything in the first six tracks of the release that would sound out of place on a hyper-polished release by someone like Norah Jones and the like. It's all very pretty, with nice production featuring strings and horns and completely straightforward rhythms, but before you know it thirty minutes have passed with nary a quickening of the heartbeat.
Fortunately, things pick up a bit on the second portion of the album, with a couple songs that save it from being nearly a complete snooze. "As The Stars Fall" throws a bit of a nice curve into the mix with some buzzy synths, soaring strings, and some nearly-cracking drums that push things into a delightfully trippy space-jazz realm, while "Breathe" brings back Fontella Bass and somewhat salvages her contributions by letting her get a bit more into things as a slowly-building track crests at the halfway point before melting away again. Album closer "To Build A Home" features Patrick Wilson (who sounds a bit like Antony at times) on vocals and moves with a quickening minimal classical piano refrain that's punctuated with gorgeous strings.
If you enjoy ultra mellow jazz meanderings with the occasional slinky vocals that sound like they could be playing in the background at a mainstream coffee chain, Ma Fleur will provide in spades. The production is lovely and the album has a few "a-ha" moments, but doesn't exactly stand out given its long gestation period.