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From A Jazz Trio, Hypnotic Work That Hardly Sounds Like Jazz

Dawn of Midi. Left to right: drummer Qasim Naqvi, bassist Aakaash Israni and pianist Amino Belyamani. (Courtesy of the artist)

It takes a while to orient yourself when you're listening to the band Dawn of Midi. The new album Dysnomia is a 47-minute-long composition by what looks like a jazz triodrums, bass and piano. But it sounds like something completely different — looping, minimal electronic music. And there's no improvisation here: It's performed the same way, note for note, every time.

"We definitely sculpted the sounds of the piece as an homage to electronic music," says the band's bassist, Aakaash Israni. "We wanted to show that these instruments are capable of more than just the way they've been heard traditionally."

One writ-large example: Pianist Amino Belyamani's extremely unconventional approach to his instrument.

"The entire piano part is played one-handed on the keyboard, because his left hand on the strings of the piano," Israni explains. "So he's muting the strings to create this sort of synthy kind of sound; it almost sounds like a guitar harmonic. And that allows him to move and change and sculpt the sound of the piano in incredible ways.

Dysnomia is named after the furthest moon in our solar system. Each of the tracks, Israni says, gets its name from a different orbiting body — a tribute to the elliptical nature of the music.

"From the listener's perspective it can be very difficult to follow what's going on, but it can still be felt, which was very important to us — that you can feel the pulse, or many pulses, whether or not you understand how it's happening" he says. "From our side of things, having worked this out and composed this, we are not lost when we play it. But that only has come through a lot of labor."

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Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It takes a while to orient yourself when you're listening to the newest album by the band Dawn of Midi. In fact, it's hard even to describe what it is, but here goes: it's a 47-minute-long composition called "Dysnomia." It looks like a jazz trio - drums, bass and piano - but it sounds like something completely different - looping, minimal, electronic music. And there's no improvisation here. It's performed the same way, note for note, every time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AAKAASH ISRANI: My name is Aakaash Israni. I'm the bassist in Dawn of Midi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: We definitely sculpted the sounds of the piece as maybe an homage to electronic music just because we wanted to show that these instruments are capable of more than just the way they've been heard traditionally perhaps together in jazz or in the orchestra for the contrabass and the piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: The pianist's name is Amino Belyamani. The entire piano part is played one-handed on the keyboard because his left hand on the strings of the piano. So he's muting the strings to create this sort of synthy kind of sound; it almost sounds like a guitar harmonic. And that allows him to move and change and sculpt the sound of the piano in incredible ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: This is sort of music of ellipses and orbits. All of the parts sort of circle around each other and so we chose orbiting bodies as the track titles. Dysnomia itself is the furthest moon in our solar system.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: I remember getting off stage once and a pretty well-known musician approached me actually and said, like, what the hell is going on? Are you just counting to 379 or something, like, for each section of this piece?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: Even though we play it note for note the same way, that's not how we have internalized the music by counting the repetitions. There are a lot of cycles and audible sort of references in a piece that we can use as signposts along the path.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: Probably in the last six to eight months before we went into the studio, we had maybe 150 rehearsals. We practice a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: I think we could probably still play it better.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: From the listener's perspective it can be very difficult to follow what's going on but it can still be felt, which was very important to us - that you can feel the pulse, or many pulses, whether or not you understand how it's happening. From our side of things, having worked this out and composed this, we are not lost when we play it. But that only has come through a lot of labor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISRANI: We've been in concert hall settings and we've done it at a frat party at Princeton with, you know, a guy running through the room covered in maple syrup in his underwear. And it works in both contexts. It is dance music at its core as much as it is concert music. So, it can go either way. And I think rhythm is sort of the great equalizer in that respect.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Aakaash Israni of the band Dawn of Midi. Their new album is called "Dysnomia."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINDA WERTHEIMER READING SHOW CREDITS)

WERTHEIMER: I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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