Thursday, 29 April 2010
[Dawn of Midi are Amino Belyamani: piano; Aakaash Israni: contrabass; Qasim Naqvi: drums and toys. See http://www.dawnofmidi.com]
It’s unusual to see such a new band receiving what seems to be almost universally high praise from the critics, indicating that, while Dawn of Midi may not be receiving the jazz press hype they perhaps deserve, there is definitely something rather special going on here. There’s no point in worrying whether to call this ‘jazz’ or ‘free improvisation’ (though all the pieces are improvised, the vocabulary often has a distinct jazz edge to it). Rather, this group has come about at a time when such worries seem irrelevant, when statements of intent can be made through music rather than ideological or theoretical proscriptions; what matters most of all is the creation of serious and engaging sound.
The record opens with quiet but purposeful bass and drums from Aakaash Israni and Qasim Naqvi, soon joined by the piano of Amino Belyamani. There’s no real sense of anyone ‘soloing’ as such; rather, the three musicians collaborate to create music that contains both the melodic/harmonic legacy of jazz and the textural approach of free improv, but prioritises neither. As they write on their website, “In the global art music setting, one can sense a paradigm shift that veers towards an appreciation of timbre, color, and the silences that frame a musical offering…In this age of modern improvisation where the distinctions between musical normatives are blurred, DOM’s thematic and timbral approach is reminiscent of many genres bound in one simultaneous moment.” Without the strictures of chord changes or the ‘theme-solos-theme’ template, the improvisations are nevertheless full of memories, fragments, wisps of genre, of music heard and absorbed by the players. But this never degenerates into a merely banal quoting of genre; instead, the kinship between different musics is recognized as the background to the creation of new sounds and discoveries. It’s a way of ‘making it new’ without trying too hard to do so: innovation by stealth, if you like, or innovation by degrees, with the traditions of the past as a rich well to draw on rather than a burden or hindrance.
There’s nothing flashy or self-consciously dramatic here; the tracks rise and fall, dip and sway, moving away before you can pin them down. Part-way through ‘Laura Lee’, the piano suddenly introduces a meltingly affective, melancholic chord which feels perfectly appropriate, though it doesn’t obviously arise from the territory the trio has just been exploring – and then, even before the sustain-pedall’d echoes of that chord have faded away, Belyamani starts repeating a note, not quite hammering, not quite feathering it. What follows is the most exquisitely judged use of space, bass and drums working in perfect tandem with Belyamani’s odd pauses, which are longer than the momentum of the music might lead one to expect, but shorter than a fully-fledged ‘silence’. It’s as if something really lyrical, flowing, song-like is about to emerge, but is dampened, broken up, forced back underground. This suggestion of what might have been – an allusion to what has not yet come to pass – imparts a wonderful sense of openness. This is a world of possibility in which choices are made at every turn; you can hear the players thinking this music through as they are playing it. Which shouldn’t lead to the usual accusations of ‘cerebral’ and ‘intellectual’ music, as opposed to music from the heart, from the gut – what Dawn of Midi exemplify is that that supreme control goes hand in hand with the creation of emotional states. This is music tied to the motions of the body and the motions of the mind.
I may not have been very specific in what I’ve said so far, and it’s perhaps best to discover the various techniques and variations DOM spin through real time listening rather than after-the-fact criticism. That said, I will note something that happens quite a lot on the record: an emphasis on detail, one note or minute phrase being returned to again and again, all the development occurring in variations of touch. Mid-way through track five, ‘Tale of Two Worlds’, there appears a minimal repeated figure, sounded with a cross between bluesy insouciance and something almost despairing, punctuated by the dampened dabs of a note sounded while the finger clamps down the vibrations from the string. One is drawn into this, forced to examine the implications of a musical phrase that one might have overlooked in the general development of the piece; it’s as if the players have suddenly decide to zoom in, to focus very closely and specifically for a couple of moments, and one realizes that this could happen at any time, one realizes the trio’s great awareness of the myriad of possible implications in everything that they play.
For the ultimate example, listen to the last track, ‘In Between’, where a single piano note (and then a small number of alternating notes) sounds out again and again, for minutes at a time, bass and drums gradually boiling and bubbling underneath, a chord in the other hand supporting but never fully developing the scant material, all creating a kind of momentum through stasis; and, finally, a meditative quality, the piano reminiscent of tolling bells, the bass plucking understated counter-melody, drums with the faintest taps and splashes, a trance with off-centre rhythmic accompaniment. Once this lengthy section finally finishes, and the CD ends, something still seems to hang in the air – the silence itself turned into music by what preceded it. How the music will restart on DOM’s next release only time will tell, but no doubt it will flow as naturally from the silence as it flowed into it. This is an extremely fine debut recording, one which I have no hesitation in recommending.