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Ahn Trio
Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac
Sony Classics
www.ahntrio.com


The Ahn Trio made their first couple of classical albums (traditional classical repertoire like Shostakovich, Ravel and Dvorak) about 15 years ago, if memory serves. Then, after a couple of years, they put out two CDs that had all contemporary music - an occasional pop song from a group like The Doors but mostly film themes and pieces from modern neo-classical composers. The highlights were a suite from their Juilliard classmate Kenji Bunch and another suite specifically composed for them by Maurice Jarre.

These three ladies are sisters (last name of Ahn) who were born in Korea but now live in New York City. After a wait of five years, and a label change (from EMI to Sony-BMG), they are back with a new recording, Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac, that for some reason contains new versions of several pieces that appeared on the last two CDs. But the good news is that the trio (piano, violin and cello) are in as fine a form as ever with their individual and collective playing, and they also continue to be innovative. On these last few albums the group really pushes the boundaries of what we consider to be classical music. They make a case that this IS the new classical music for this century. The three classically-oriented acoustic instruments draw you in to a classical mindset about the music, but then suddenly you leave the Beethoven-Bach-Brahms sound that most people consider as classical and are plunged into a variety of modern arenas. The group has a couple of folk-pop singers doing guest vocals on a pair of tunes, and the trio is most innovative when they take four of the tunes that appear on the first part of the album and hand them to beat-masters or remix DJs and offer those four tunes up as beat-driven bonus tracks (one with a Korean rap vocal, of all things).

The CD starts with Kenji Bunch's "Dies Irie" which fits into the lullaby theme by starting with a simple, almost childlike piano riff before the strings come in and soon create a complex blend of sound and structure. The song strips back down to piano and builds up twice more, the final time adding layers of percussion and background vocalizing (by Czech singer Ema Brabcova of the group Khoiba) before ending as simply as it began, with just piano. Brabcova also sings lead vocals on "Solitary Singer" and sounds like she could have a Sarah McLachlan-like pop career in English speaking countries. The Ahns met her when they went to the Czech Republic, first for a concert and then again to record this CD.

Most of the material is simply written and simply played which captures the lullaby aspect of the recording. It is not hot solos the ladies are after, but deep feelings, slow yet passion-filled renderings. Despite the modern-touches - pop vocals on two tunes, dabs of electronica on pieces such as Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion" and David Bowie and Pat Metheny's "This Is Not America" (both covered before), whispering on the title tune, and second-version dance-club remixes of four tracks - the melodies themselves (even though all written in the past half-century) sound like they could easily be several hundred years old. Of course the slices of Michael Nyman's score for the popular period piece film "The Piano" were penned to evoke a time a couple of centuries back. But "Song of the Land" was written fairly recently by Ronn Yedidia, who is American-educated, but has Jewish roots reaching back to Israel, and perhaps it is that Old World relationship that makes this tune (and the two others he arranged) sound like European baroque from back when the Kings were commissioning works for their courts (the flamboyant violin dramas made me picture that classic stairway scene in "Young Frankenstein").

This is an extremely diverse recording for listeners who want to be surprised and invigorated by what comes next instead of lulled to sleep with everything sounding the same. I give the Ahn Trio an A for effort, creative thought and musicianship on this extremely smooth-flowing easy-to-listen-to recording.

-Randall


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