Sounds Heard—Dawn of Midi: First
The Floor from First
Jazz piano trios are roughly the genre’s equivalent of the string quartet—they’re fairly ubiquitous and provide a fascinating, more intimate approach to complex music making. But unlike the string quartet, which is a seamless balance of sound across a range, the jazz piano trio combines three very different instruments—piano, bass, and drums—and usually the pianist is the leader in such configurations, though there have been some notable, extraordinary exceptions over the years. The trio Dawn of Midi, however, is a collectively led ensemble and all of its material is collectively credited (although “Aakaash Israni Music”, named after the band’s bassist, is credited as the music’s publishing contact).
While DoM is comprised of émigré musicians from three different countries—Pakistani percussionist Qasim Naqvi hails from Pakistan, pianist Amino Belyamani is Moroccan and Israni came from India—the music they create together does not betray their origins. Rather, their extremely heady stew has the energy of totally free improvisation as well as the inevitability of a more straight-ahead approach to the music. So when Naqvi bangs on toys in addition to his drum kit, Belyamani sticks his hand inside the keyboard to increase the timbral possibilities, or Israni ekes out various whomps on his double-bass, the resultant sound is a bizarre yet completely natural sounding amalgam. It has an expansiveness reminiscent of Albert Ayler’s pianoless masterpiece Spiritual Unity and yet at the same time the surehandedness of the Bill Evans Trio’s legendary Village Vanguard sessions. Perhaps it’s a sign that the avant-garde and the so-called mainstream are indeed, as Darcy James Argue has stated on these pages, no longer really all that far apart.
I’m particularly intrigued by “The Floor” which is simultaneously soothing and completely unnerving. It begins with seemingly aimless bass and percussion sound bursts as the pianist simultaneously plays on the keys and inside the instrument. Then gorgeous nocturnal piano harmonies (imagine Morton Feldman playing Debussy) happily co-exist alongside the ongoing sonic rumbles. Even though what everyone is doing is totally different, no one gets in anyone else’s way and the whole thing seamlessly fits together. It’s what the most exciting moments throughout jazz history have always been.
Yet their name, Dawn of Midi, might initially make you think that the music they make is something quite different from jazz, particularly acoustic jazz. According to an email I received from Qasim, the band’s name actually came from an offhand comment he had made:
The title came up in the parking lot of Calarts. We were all students there and our time overlapped by a year. The original name of the group was Dark Sessions, and that was more of a description of our musical process and also a default title at the time. Our earliest musical process involved rehearsing in pitch black spaces. In school, there were a few practice rooms with no light source, no windows, no light from under the door and we would often improvise in these spaces as a way to tune our hearing. When one sense is taken away, like site, the sense of hearing would overcompensate in interesting ways. Anyway, in the parking lot of Calarts we were discussing the electronic music of a particular faculty member, who shall remain nameless and I compared his sound to the dawn of midi, the time in the 80s when you could really hear that numeric range in everything. After I said that, we all sort of looked at each other and fell in love with the name.
Another email, from Aakaash, further elaborates:
Upon reflection, we found that that there were certain implications in the phrase that applied to us; the fact that we were all born around the beginning of this technology, and further, being children of the era of MIDI (and electronic music’s subsequent assimilation into the mainstream) we were all influenced by and sensitive to electronic music and the possibilities of sound/timbre/color as musically narrative elements in and of themselves. A sensitivity that we definitely brought to the table in our collaboration together as a band, in spite of the fact that we were doing purely acoustic music.
But don’t in any way be dissuaded by the band’s name: this music has absolutely nothing to do with MIDI!