Kenji Bunch: Concrete Stream
Kenji Bunch: Swing Shift: Night Flight
The Doors: Riders on the Storm
Prince: Purple Rain
David Bowie: Space Oddity (Arr. Kenji Bunch)
David Bowie & Pat Metheny: This is not America
David Balakrishnan: Skylife
It is not every day that you are welcome in a music venue to the sound of a popular rock'n'roll tune turned into a mesmerizing piece of contemporary classical music, a metamorphosis enhancing both the timeless nature of the original and the irresistible appeal of its bold reinvention.
But that's exactly what happened on Saturday night as my visiting mom and I were walking down the stairs to get to SubCulture's cool, intimate and always happening space. Of course, the unusual greeting was not a complete surprise since the headliners of the evening were the three classical trained (Juilliard, no less) Korean-born sisters who, a couple of decades ago, formed the disarmingly charming, fiercely talented and relentlessly experimenting Ahn Trio.
That's why we decided that, even after a gorgeous October Saturday spent enjoying urban nature on The High Hine, urban music in Washington Square, urban art with an exhibit about the NYC subway in a Tribeca gallery, and an urban treat with some rich hot chocolate in Soho in the company the ultimate urban (Brooklynite!) friend, we would still soldier on and wrap up this busy day with more live music in a decidedly very urban club.
The first piece was written by Kenji Bunch, one of the girls' Juilliard fellow graduates, for a performance combining dance and music. For better or worse no dancing took place on Saturday night, but "Concrete Stream" wasted no time powerfully resounding with its poetic evocation of natural flowing water and vivid depiction of a concrete jungle. From the very first notes, the three players presented a tightly united sisterly front, violinist Angella and cellist Maria regularly exchanging knowing looks and smiles with pianist Lucia fitting right in.
"Swing Shift: Night Flight". the second piece by Kenji Bunch, was composed especially for The Ahn Trio and focused squarely on the maddeningly fascinating environment that is New York City. Remarkable for their combined scope and complexity, those six movements allowed the ladies to readily create various moods, whether an endless drift into town, a brutal traffic jam, a wild party, a short but truly magical hour, or a cool jazz interlude. Clocking in at about 30 minutes, it was long enough to make a strong, multi-faceted statement without over-extending its genuine appeal. Happily diving right into the challenging work, the three musicians put their virtuosic skills to riveting use.
After intermission, the tireless trio got right into a groovy tune that I eventually recognized as "Riders on the Storm", the classical instruments beautifully heightening the spell-binding quality of The Doors' original song, even if this updated version did not feature any rain.
But we got rain of some sorts next, after Angella confided to us that one of the undisputed highlights of their career was hanging out with Prince at Paisley Park, which apparently even beat out playing at The White House for the Korean President. Consequently, we got to hear "Purple Rain" like very few people have, and this was quite an intense trip.
Turns out that Maria and I share an early obsession for David Bowie, but unlike me, she had the talent and means to put together and dedicate a whole solo album to the object of our affections. She was also kind enough to invite her sisters to guest on a couple of pieces, and there was born a very special "Space Oddity", which was the mesmerizing piece of music that had been playing as we were walking in earlier. Hearing it live made the truly otherworldly experience even more real.
Still in David Bowie's catalog, but with Pat Metheny this time, "This is not America" was quietly atmospheric, and the concert ended with a jazzy "Skylife" by David Balakrishnan. A fun, unpretentious, yet very cool conclusion that reaffirmed, if need be, that the sky's indeed the limit for those incredible ladies.