It's not necessarily a reconstitution of New Orleans' Congo Square—that trading spot where, back in the early 20th century, African, European and indigenous cultures got jumbled up and spat out jazz—but New York's Dawn of Midi is searching for a similar cultural confluence in its music.
The acoustic trio's latest album, Dysnomia, comes off like a batch of androids performing a 47-minute, through-composed statement of purpose. Its unbending structure, gifted to listeners from what looks like a jazz group, assimilates motorik beats and seemingly electronic patterns, and just might be as culturally inclusive as whatever happened down in Louisiana all those years back.
"Amino [Belyamani, the trio's pianist] is from Morocco and has a pretty deep background in African music as a percussionist," says Aakaash Israni, the troupe's Indian bassist, from Melbourne, Australia, just prior to performing at the city's jazz festival. "I knew that he had all this language, and we'd been nerding out about rhythmic ideas for a long time together."
Turning in its debut, First, in 2010, Dawn of Midi arrived as a freely improvising group, indebted both to 1960s out-jazz and contemporary European classical works, but nothing among the dissonant piano, muted bass figures and scattershot drumming of third member Qasim Naqvi intimated the conceptual leap of the group's next album. Dysnomia is ostensibly a percussion album, Israni says, with his bass and even Belyamani's piano taking on a rhythmic quality.
On "Atlas," a few tracks into Dysnomia, the band hits a locked groove, repeating a phrase until the tension begs for release. Passages like this draw comparisons to krautrock ensembles and post-rock groups, but Dawn of Midi's embrace of repetition is gleaned from African drumming traditions, not Western appropriations like Can or Tortoise.
"There is a certain freedom in being able to be entranced in the same way the listener might," Israni says about performing Dysnomia with exacting precision night after night. "I rather enjoy starting the piece and going into a hypnotic state and opening my eyes 47 minutes later to see the crowd there." Dawn of Midi's performances, though, aren't always fully grasped by those who witness them. At a festival date in Burlington, Vt., just before its trip to Australia, the band stupefied listeners. "When we finished the piece, there was an immensely long silence before people started clapping," Israni says. "It felt like we all participated in some kind of journey."
Translating what amounts to an academic work gleaned from the examination of rapturous African cultures doesn't sound like it would lead to a dance party. But merging the cultural intentions of old-world drumming and the club setting Dawn of Midi performs in offers a fitting assemblage of ideas and execution.
"We'd like more and more for people to dance, and it's starting to happen," Israni says. "A lot of times, everyone's feeling the beat, but confused and not super-confident about where to dance. But you can sorta dance anywhere, there are so many different pulses."
[Ed. Note: A previous version of this piece mistakenly identified Aakaash Israni as Iranian. WW regrets the error.]
SEE IT: Dawn of Midi plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Big Scary, on Wednesday, June 18. 9 pm. $12 advance, $14 day of show. 21+.