Back to RECENT CDs
Another CD featuring Cambodian music (currently available by download) is:
The New International Trio
Twin Cities Reader Apr 12-18, 1989
Two medleys will tickle your laser beam as well. The first one mates 13th century French songs with a Gregorian chant. The results are hauntingly lovely. But the more amazing medley matches Cambodian wedding music with Thelonious Monk! It’s audacious and amusing.
The New International Trio’s CD ain’t just for folkies, ethnics, and culture collectors. It’ll please anybody with two ears and a roving spirit. —Tom Surowicz
Option Magazine Nov/Dec 1989
Folk Roots Magazine May 1989
World Beat: a listeners guide to contemporary world music on CD, 1992 Peter Spencer.
St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, Apr 13-19, 1989
Just a few bars into the O’Carolan Irish standard “Morgan Megan” or the classic swing tune “In the Mood,” it becomes abundantly clear that the New International Trio is onto something entirely strange and wonderful.
“In the Mood,” for instance, swings along at a brisk pace, but it’s intriguingly off-kilter, familiar but maddeningly different. For one thing, the instrumentation is bizarre: harpsichord, Northumbrian bagpipes and tro u, an oriental fiddle with two iron strings. It sounds brittle, yet sparkles with an impish energy, almost as if Benny Goodman had been filtered back to the 16th century, emerging as some swinging Celtic piper with an unlikely penchant for the wonders of the Orient.
The trio manages this by spinning a delightfully idiosyncratic web peppered with jazz, British Isles folk, Cambodian and early music of the baroque and Renaissance eras. It becomes a blend that explores similarities among the types of music while challenging common assumptions about the nature of music and culture.
“So much of what we do is not playing ethnic music,” explained trio member Dick Hensold. “It’s trying to stretch our musical understanding, draw parallels, find congruencies and learn a little bit more about hearing something in a different way.
“We’re always looking for ways in which we can combine Western and Cambodian music, and we exploit all the places that we find a congruence.”
Exploitation rarely has been this much fun or unusual. On the Twin Cities-based group’s eponymous debut recording – released last month by the local Atomic Theory label – a Thelonious Monk tune brushes up against a Cambodian wedding song; a traditional British Isles song is festooned with Cambodian ornamentation; 13th century French tunes are rendered by the tro u; Cambodian classical pieces and pop songs abound.
“Shallow eclecticism worries me a lot,” Hensold admitted. “Anybody can be weird, but I try to keep the quality high enough so it’s quality weird.”
The New International Trio, source of this inspired weirdness, will perform a special album-releasse concert Sunday at the New Riverside Café in Minneapolis. It is as unlikely a band as its music.
Chicago native Hensold, 30, studied music at Oberlin College, majoring in recorder, and primarily played in early-music ensembles. But he also had passing interests in ragtime, barbershop quartets and bluegrass, and after moving to Minnesota in ’84, he started hanging out at the Coffeehouse Extempore and playing folk music with local folkies Jeff Cahill and Dick Rees.
A couple of years later, a friend introduced him to Bun Loeung, now 60, a Cambodian expatriate who was playing Cambodian music at the now-defunct Angkor restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what a great rhythm,’” Hensold recalled. Fascinated, Hensold hired Loeung, who then spoke virtually no English, for an upcoming gig so he could learn a little Cambodian music. A few days before the concert, the ad hoc group’s harp player got sick and a friend suggested Barb Weiss, a harpsichordist who had moved to town just weeks before, as a replacement.
“It was a kind of serendipitous mix,” Hensold said. “That concert was really the first time the three of us played together. The sounds that we were making gave me the idea to expand on that.”
Weiss, 33, who had come to town to teach at the MacPhail Center, has a diverse background: jazz piano, a double piano and clarinet major at Indiana University, a master’s degree in early keyboards from the University of Michigan.
But Bun Loeung adds the most unusual ingredient. from about 1945 to the early ‘70’s, Loeung was musical director of a troupe based in the western Cambodian city of Battambang that performed an improvisatory style of Cambodian theater called Lakoun Basak. He also played a genre of classical Cambodian music called Mahori, most of which is reputed to go back to the Angkor period (Roughly 800-1200) and now is the basis for most of the trio’s Cambodian material.
Because of the language barrier, the trio initially communicated primarily through music. But even that, Hensold said, posed a few problems in the beginning.
“What was difficult was communicating with somebody who doesn’t speak English and working out tunes together when nether of you have a common notation. Once we figured out what the score was on all these issues, then things fell together.”
To learn the material, the musicians would exchange tapes, then critique each other’s performances. When Loeung learned a Western tune, his Cambodian roots naturally shone through.
“That's the reason we choose such well-known American pop tunes (“Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Summertime,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’”),” Hensold said. “We want people to hear how these melodies get transposed into a Cambodian sensibility. He improvises automatically, but in a linear way, not in a harmonic way.”
The trio’s seemingly disparate mix of material also evolved naturally.
“A lot of people say that these Mahori songs remind them of Irish music” Hensold said. “I had the same impression when I first heard it. That’s why I taught Loeung the Irish music. The Irish music and the Cambodian music work together in the program because people recognize this kinship. Also, the Mahori has a swing to it – a very loose and irregular kind of swing, but a swing, nonetheless. That’s what made us interested in playing these swing tunes.”
The early music in the trio’s repertoire isn’t far removed from folk music. One piece – “Galliard in A”— has a rhythmic kinship with Cambodian music.
“So, there’s a Cambodian drum part to this Renaissance English piece.,” Hensold explained.
You get the impression even Hensold is a little incredulous that the trio’s music hangs together so well. In fact, he’s still trying to sort out exactly what’s going on in a philosophical sense.
“It's really sort of mind-blowing to find out what we assume was given and what’s actually just subjective. We don’t see everything as a kind of mystic oneness. Working together makes us feel more like everything is arbitrary, and there’s no real basis for departure. So, there’s a certain amount of humor in our program. We stick together sometimes really incongruous things.”
Way Up North
Way Up North, a band based in Northern Wisconsin that was active 1992-6, featured Bruce Bowers on fiddle, Dick Hensold on Northumbrian smallpipes and recorder, Lisa McGinley on whistle and vocals, and Tom Draughon on guitar. They played primarily music of Scotland and Ireland, with quite a few originals.
From Dirty Linen (Apr-May ’96):