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Super Numeri - Great Aviaries

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Artist: Super Numeri

Album: Great Aviaries

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Mar. 30, 2003

Mostly Mellow Modern Fusion

Taking equal parts Miles Davis and prog-rock, Liverpool's Super Numeri offer eight expansive tracks wherein the emphasis tends to fall more on the laid-back side of things. The album doesn't start on the most auspicious note: "The Electronic Horse Garden" is extremely mellow, a bit too much like light jazz to inspire much excitement. Buzzing sitar-like strings, delicate guitar notes, and pulsing bass meander to and fro, and are simply too tentative to sustain a 10-minute track. There's a fine line between holding back to create atmosphere and allowing the song to feel as though everybody's afraid to play anything. The piece ends up more like polite dinner music than anything else, and I found it alternating between annoying and so forgettable that it would slip my mind that I was actually listening to anything.

Thankfully the second track, "Sundials," immediately starts out with more palpable excitement, and offers much more of interest. Tick-tock percussion and chugging bass underpin glistening high-pitched sounds; who knows if they're brass, keyboard, guitar or something else. Squeaky feedback-like howls and sax squelches make way for guitar throb and a mild string section, while the drums remain constantly in motion circling beneath the action.

Other songs here vary the formula by introducing more or less rock energy, and the relative success primarily lies in the band's varied willingness to let go instead of reigning things in. "Beaks," for example, comes out of the gate with fuzz and bluster, sounding a bit like late-model King Crimson (yes, that's a good thing). Slow, heavy drums sustain thickly rhythmic distorted guitar while other noises spray across the top, taking turns being the most obnoxious on the block. Great stuff, this one.

On the other hand, "Otter's Poll" yanks the proceedings back to quieter, naval-gazing territory, complete with harp, cymbal-working light percussion, and gently-plucked strings, though underneath there are some strange sound patterns on the horizon. As the song goes on, the background hummings and synthetic whirrs surface a bit more, but the piece remains placid to the end. It manages to succeed because it's wisely held to four minutes.

"Leisure Lakes" is the most Miles Davis-influenced piece here, with floating organ and gentle wah-guitar, while "The Ember Love" begins as if it were a lost Alice Coltrane tune, with strummed harp, warbling vibes, and sparse, crisp drums locked in with a solid bassline. "Classic British Ponds" melds chiming bells with a steady, semi-martial beat held down on the bottom by minimalist bass, and "Flaurent Carmin" concludes the set with shimmering synthetic notes, a curtain of pitch-shifted buzzing kept company by solidly throbbing bass and precise, dubbed-out drums and keyboards (or are they horns?).

Super Numeri are known as self-avowed "avant-garde traditionalists," which makes sense given the music's combination of old and new. Certainly the mixture of jazz elements with rock and dub, brought up to date with modern electronic trickery, has been done before. But while the band could use less self-restraint, and need to bring more audible excitement to their work, Great Aviaries is a worthy listen for those looking for a soundtrack to float through the day.

By Mason Jones

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