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Jazzfinger - Autumn Engines

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Artist: Jazzfinger

Album: Autumn Engines

Label: Rebis

Review date: Jan. 19, 2007

Jazzfinger, the Newcastle duo of Hasan Gaylani and Ben Jones, invoke some of autumn’s most prominent imagery in the artwork for Autumn Engines, their American full-length debut. Blown leaves are plentiful aside collections of crisp, colorful foliage. But the hues of the season that make up the album aren’t those of the splendor of a mountainside erupting in vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange. Instead, Jazzfinger’s invocation of autumn seems more to emulate the season’s later days, those of naked trees bending under a stiff wind, their skeletal forms distinct against an overcast sky, and of leaves, now limp and pale, crushed slowly into a sloppy, wet mush that seems ever underfoot. Autumn Engine isn’t a sad disc, but there is a forlorn quality to Jazzfinger’s minimalist improvisations, their sounds often muffled and indistinct, from a palette of December’s somber tones rather than the bursts of October’s fiery displays.

As veterans of Sunroof! and the Vibracatherdral Orchestra, Gaylani and Jones are no strangers to many listeners, but, after a series of releases in their own country, Autumn Engines is the first Jazzfinger album to find its way to American shores. Aided by Ben Wilkinson and Sarah Sullivan, the pair use the recording process as much as their instruments to create the album’s tone. There are times, such as in the opening chimes of “Dreams Cast Shadows,” or the dark mass that underlies “Room,” that Jazzfinger’s music is distinct and forceful, but more often they rely on sound shrouded under a cloud of low fidelity or awash in a mist of reverb and room tone. Drones and feedback are common starting points, augmented by any number of accompaniments, from mournful underwater guitar to brushes of a solitary symbol or a series of stark and simple percussive replies. “The Day,” and its longer sibling “Memory of the Day,” bookend the disc with manipulated tape of what sounds like some vein of Middle Eastern vocals over a mélange of vague field recording and equally shadowy instrumental accompaniment.

When the haze clears, Autumn Engines is a fairly minimal undertaking. The album’s tracks tend to focus on a small array of approaches and sonic themes, with little variance. It’s a method that does Jazzfinger well; they’re not a band whose minimal meanderings cry out for sharp curves. Still, it’d be to the music’s benefit to allow for more prominent voices amongst the contributors, as the disc’s strongest tracks are often those with a singularly distinct ingredient emerging, even if only sporadically. Jazzfinger have been called primitive, and while their music lacks much of an atavistic quality, it does possess a simplistic tone that belies the collection of contributions that goes into each track. While some artists prefer to make few voices sound like many, Jazzfinger opt to meld multiple elements into a larger whole, and while their technique seems sometimes in want of conspicuous individual effort, Autumn Engines’ best segments are cohesive strands of dingy aural taffy, solid and opaque, but not without just the right amount of malleable flexibility. Autumn’s last gasp isn’t without its wiles, and this album, like the days just before the winter solstice, can be quite beautiful in its muted ambiance.

By Adam Strohm

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