This record immediately jumped into my head on the term ‘instrumental’ being suggested as the theme for our next meeting, and no matter how much I’ve thought about it, or what else I’ve listened to, nothing else has come close to dislodging it. Apart, perhaps, from …Endtroducing by DJ Shadow, which is too long to play.
I first saw mention of Dysnomia in the comments underneath my review of Open by The Necks for The Quietus some 18 months ago, where someone name-checked it as another modern, minimalist jazz album worth checking out. In an uncharacteristic move, I listened to a chunk of it online straight away, and was impressed, so hunted down the CD and ordered it the same day. It’s been in semi-regular rotation ever since.
Dawn of Midi are based in Brooklyn (isn’t everyone these days?), but formed at Cal Arts, and are called Qasim Naqvi (drums), Aakaash Israni (upright bass), and Amino Belyamani (grand piano). The music they play is ostensibly instrumental jazz, but you could easily hear it as closer in tone to minimal electronic music; they produce incredibly taut, repetitive, and satisfying grooves that put you in mind of intricate clockwork machinery, simple shapes arranged in complex patterns that overlap, interlock, and affect each other in subtly developmental ways.
Dysnomia was recorded live and the nine tracks, which run to a total of 46 minutes, segue seamlessly into one another like a single improvised composition. I’m aware that those two words together are oxy-moronic, but for a long time I genuinely have no idea whether these three musicians played completely off the cuff or whether they micromanage what they do in advance; it could have been either and I’d still have been impressed. As it happens, this really interesting interview with them reveals that it is micro-composed and rehearsed to within an inch of its life; three rehearsals a week for two years, until they played “like three people from the same village playing folk music their whole life together”. The interview also gives fascinating insight into their backgrounds, methodologies, and influences.
In terms of layman comparisons, The Necks are an obvious one, as is Steve Reich, but so are Tortoise, Portico Quartet, Nicolas Jaar, La Dusseldorf, Four Tet, and plenty of other people. Basically anything repetitive and minimal, but they also remind me of Fugazi, somehow, if Fugazi were a minimal, repetitive jazz / pseudo-electronic outfit rather than ragingly progressive post-hardcore punks.
Dysnomia is an alluring, intriguing record. It reveals everything it has to offer within the first few seconds, pretty much, and yet I’ve found myself going back to it endlessly over the last 18 months, playing it over and over, even just thinking about it and feeling a desire to play it at moments when I couldn’t. It lures you into a trance, compels you to move, creates a structure within your mind that allows other thoughts to occur even as it seems to occupy your attention. It feels very pure to me; Platonic, I guess, like an essence of an idea.
Rob listened: This was lovely, an intricate, ever-shifting machine set up and set off just for our wonder and pleasure. The sounds themselves were solid, meaningful, shaped and balanced. The slowly extending and contracting patterns were utterly fascinating. The idea that these three guys rehearsed to the point where they could play this stuff live is incredible, and gives this precise, abstract and delicately balanced piece an underlying sense of joyful humanity.
Tom listened: Firstly I’d like to get the obvious out of the way. This was a beautiful, intimate, addictive listen, with just enough variation along the way to keep me hooked in and fend off those ’emperor’s new clothes’ demons that often come calling when things get a little too minimal.
Almost as fascinating for me as the music itself is the fact that this and John Coltrane could fall under the same genre title. If you were an alien and were told that both these records (that is, Dysnomia and Coltranology Volume 2) were this thing known as ‘Jazz’, you’d surely head off home thinking this species were crazy. But the odd thing is that, however faint, you can just about hear the links, and can appreciate how, over time, one may have led (albeit via a very circuitous route) to the other; something to do with the innovation, the precision, the realisation of a singular vision..and the fact that they are not obviously anything else!