An Unexpected New Direction for the Prince of Flutes
Japanese-Canadian world music flautist Ron Korb is known as the “Prince of Flutes” in Japan and “Dragon Flute” in China. But in addition to the extensive study of Asian bamboo flute music that contributed to his Grammy-nominated 2015 album “Asia Beauty”, he has made a name for himself in several other genres, including jazz, classical and Celtic music, and has played in the soundtracks of hundreds of film and TV series. His latest offering is a Latin instrumental album entitled “World Café”. Parvati Magazine spoke with Ron about why the pivot from Asian music to Latin isn’t as far as you might think.
Parvati Magazine: Your last album “Asia Beauty” explored Asian colours and textures. Many in your audience might have expected a follow-up in the same vein. Why did you choose to make an album with a Latin style?
Ron Korb: “World Café” has been very well received, but it has taken everyone by surprise— especially listeners who just came to my music in recent years. Older fans know I have already written and performed tunes like Casco Viejo, La Sirena, Desert Night and Dark Eyes. Even back in my student days I often would write tunes that had a Spanish flavour. Latin music is the rhythm of the heart, and I had been looking forward to making an upbeat album with a Latin theme for many years.
PMAG: How did you put together this album?
RK: For the last decade I have been writing songs with pen and paper. I have books of manuscript paper full of handwritten sketches and ideas. When I am away from home and an idea pops into my head, I will just sing the melody or beatbox the rhythm onto my phone and transcribe it later. After the musical phrases have had time to ferment, I revisit them and focus on the melodies that have real magic. Some songs come together very quickly and others take years to find the right contrasting section. It is always possible to finish off a song quickly, but to write something really special takes a lot of time and effort.
PMAG: What was the most rewarding thing about making “World Café”?
RK: I would say it’s collaboration with the musicians. It is amazing to hear the songs come alive when you workshop them with a band. In the past, I used MIDI and computer software a lot. But since doing my “Ron Korb Live” album in Quebec in 2004, I gradually transitioned to being completely acoustic. It is far more expensive to work that way, but I prefer the result. Working with legendary Cuban pianist Hilario Duran and guitarist Johannes Linstead was a particular highlight. When I wrote the song Hilario, I didn’t think he would record it. After I contacted him, he invited me to his place and I showed him the song. He immediately liked it and suggested Cuban players to join us on the recording. It was a thrill to work with such authentic players.
PMAG: What was it like to attend the Grammys when you were nominated?
RK: Best week ever. There are many events in Los Angeles leading up to the Grammys all week with my favourite being the nominees’ dinner the night before the broadcast. At the dinner we are all given Grammy medallions and it is a chance to meet and celebrate with all the other finalists. Walking the red carpet with my wife and doing the photo gauntlet was definitely a day we will never forget. And to sit in a stadium like the Staples Center with the entire audience dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns and watch the show which is a parade of icon after icon is quite amazing.
PMAG: Although the CD is instrumental, you have written poetry in the liner notes to describe the pieces throughout the album. What message were you trying to convey?
RK: The poetry is kind of a guided meditation to the score of one’s own Italian or Spanish film. In all my albums I like the listener to use their own creative visualization so they can relate and interact with the music in their own way. The meaning of the poems is that we are on this planet for a short time, so why not enjoy our time here? Some might interpret that to mean seek pleasure through material excess. That is not what I mean. No matter what disappointments you may have suffered, learn to live with peace of mind and appreciate the beauty of the moment. As the poem at the end of the album for Sans Regret Finale says, “The cool night air fills my lungs / The taste of life is sweet.”
Grammy-nominated Japanese-Canadian composer and flautist Ron Korb creates instrumental music that explores the four corners of the Earth. His new album World Caféis a rich and flavourful blend of musical styles from the Latin world. Ron’s music is available on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal and Amazon.