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Dawn Of Midi Stuns At The Carlsbad Music Festival

Elizabeth Nonemaker |
September 23, 2014 | 1:04 p.m. PDT


The three men never opened their eyes.  For an hour they played on a dimly lit stage, each engaged in a private communion.  The drummer rolled his head back, mouth agape.  The bassist jerked a loose torso over his fingerboard.  The pianist kept one hand inside the instrument as he ragdolled around, head cocked, brows pinched, counting, listening.  Not one cue was delivered during this exercise of mosaic complexity; the men knew every beat by heart.    

Dawn of Midi, a trio comprised of Aakaash Israni (bass), Amino Belyamani (piano), and Qasim Naqvi (drums), performed in full their latest album, Dysnomia, on Saturday, September 20th as part of the three-day Carlsbad Music Festival in Carlsbad, California.  The festival describes its music simply as “adventurous”; while there is a strong representation from the contemporary classical community, jazz, world, and rock are featured as well.  Dawn of Midi fits well into this mildly unclassifiable assortment.  Their earlier albums peg them as jazz musicians with a flair for melodic avant-garde, but Dysnomia plunges into a different realm altogether.  Less a band than some mystic herald of alien soundscapes (indeed, each piece on Dysnomia, including the title track, is named after a moon), they have crafted a music that baffles, absorbs, and utterly ravages its listeners with spare gorgeousness.  

“Io,” which launched the performance, begins with a two-note motive on the bass that lays down a ticking, buckled groove.  It is a brooding and traceable rhythm.  But then the piano enters – also straightforward, its quiet chirrups entirely even – except that its beat is not the bass’s beat.  And when the drums kick into play, they would seem to fill the spaces of a meter that the other instruments have woven – unless, of course, the drums are the true meter that has only just been revealed.  The effect is maddening.  There is at least one underlying, straight pulse that emerges from the tapestry, like a shadow rising on an already darkened lawn.

The entire album unfolds like this, each track bleeding attacca into the larger suite.  Thus explains the musicians’ solitude on stage.  The task of tracking these intersecting meters must demand a sacred absorption.

And once the complexity is simply allowed to unfurl, small details bloom, enchanting in their simplicity.  Take, for instance, the mere sound of the piano.  Not only is it amplified and reverberated, but many of the notes are stopped with the left hand to create a percussive but oddly humming timbre.  So when, as on “Moon,” a series of solitary, unstopped notes ring out, it is startling.  These glassy peals are something, it seems, we’ve never heard before.  And as they fall on the last 16th-note before each downbeat – but a hair’s breadth away from where we expect them to land – they create a phantom cascade, with the listener’s ears filling in effects that don’t actually exist. 

The piece ended the same way it began, but in reverse.  Disorienting as it was grounding, it felt like awakening from a dream sequence.  Was it even real?  Did we go anywhere at all?  The lights blackened on the stilled band.  In the darkness they shook their heads, dazed. 

Dawn of Midi returns to Los Angeles on November 13 for a performance with composer Nils Frahm at the El Rey Theater.  Buy your tickets in advance; these are musicians who should never be missed.

Reach Contributor Elizabeth Nonemaker here.



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