Venice quartet Opium Moon indulges in making music that’s sensuous and sensitive

Opium Moon’s fluid, hypnotic sounds give voice to a ‘Venice underground’ that’s all about love

By Bliss Bowen

With a band name inspired by Sufi poet Hafiz’s seductive imagery, Opium Moon violinist Lili Haydn and fretless bassist Itai Disraeli teasingly call the quartet’s music “the sounds of Venice underground.”

Partners in life as well as music, Haydn and Disraeli are longtime Venice residents; but their improvisation-rooted “fluid compositions” with percussionist MB Gordy and santoorist Hamid Saeidi on Opium Moon’s new self-titled album rhythmically span the globe. Transcending boundaries, according to Haydn, was vital.

“It was so important to all of us that we really defy genre,” she says. “There may be anchor points, but what is more important is allowing the serpentine themes to go where they want to go.”

More poetically, Disraeli likens their creative process to “making love; you come and bring your best and you listen and respond. … The paramount idea is deep listening — deep listening, love and respect for each other’s ideas and feelings … [and] not playing any notes that we don’t hear, so to speak. It’s not the fingers flying because they can; it’s the heart singing because it’s allowed.”

The petite Haydn is the best known of the four, having played with the likes of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Sting and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in addition to releasing five acclaimed solo albums and 2015’s classical-leaning “Evocations” with pianist William Goldstein. Since recuperating from brain damage caused almost a decade ago by toxic Chlordane in her home, she has — like her bandmates, all of whom have scored or performed music for film and television — increasingly focused on composing for the screen.

The cinematic sway of Opium Moon’s instrumental single “Caravan” lends itself to visual interpretation. The dreamy video for the piece, filmed by Oscar-nominated “Genghis Blues” director Roko Belic, follows a dancer twirling on a beach; footage of the band’s performance is projected onto her face and shimmering veils, creating images that magnify the tune’s inherent sensuality.

Persian dancers will likewise dance at Opium Moon’s concert this Sunday at the Moss Theater, which will also feature guest vocalist Sussan Deyhim and live painting by Norton Wisdom, an onstage presence at Opium Moon shows whenever scheduling permits. (“In my mind,” Haydn says, “he’s a fifth member of the band.”)

As organic as their music’s creative origins may be, Disraeli maintains that its ruminative exchanges between his grounding bass, Haydn’s emotive violin, Gordy’s resonant percussion and Saeidi’s santoor (Persian hammered dulcimer) arose from each artist’s peaceful convictions.

“Music is sound, right? It’s sound and silence. If you look at the world as sound, you’ll see that there’s so much being put out there right now that creates discord, separation, animosity, and hate, whether from the mouth of ignorant politicians, advertisers — the dividers and conquerors, so to speak. We feel it’s very, very important to put music out there that’s encoded with a feeling of unity, love, openness, and respect. … In a place where they sow division, let us sow unity.”

“And inclusion,” Haydn adds.

“And inclusion,” Disraeli agrees. “Because the truth is this is one world. And it’s one family, the human family. … You can’t listen to this and go out and hate on your neighbors. [Laughs] You’ll be like, ‘Hey, can I give you cookies?’”    

Opium Moon play at 7 p.m. Sunday (July 15) at the Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $25 to $100 at (310) 998-7171 and ticketor.com/cmp. Preview the album at opiummoon.com.

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