CD Review: Asia Beauty – Ron Korb

Reviewed by Lise Watson

The name Ron Korb is virtually synonymous with the music of Asian flutes, both at home and abroad.  This ambitious new recording further confirms Korb’s flawless reputation.   “Asia Beauty” is beautiful and satisfying on many levels.    The striking hardcover digibook cd cover is itself a work of art with its stunning photography and stories that engage and inform.  And the masterful music within easily seduces our spirit.

With nineteen tracks and three bonus tracks, some twenty or so individual performers, and an astonishing assortment of instruments including an array of flutes, erhu, guqin, guzheng, harp, piano, violin, African kalimba, drums, accordion, this is a collection of Chinese music of tremendous scope and vision.

“Asia Beauty” opens with the haunting and mysterious Hanoi Café.   You know immediately that you are in for a rare treat.

Tracks 2 through 8 are based on Korb’s own Jade Dragon Flute and The House of Five Beauties tales and could easily stand alone.   Journey Begins starts us off on our voyage, one rich with an evil sorceress who transforms herself, seduces the king, takes over the kingdom and later the world.  This is a breathtaking duet by Korb (flute) and long-time friend and collaborator Donald Quan (piano) introducing us to the House of Five Beauties and the peaceable kingdom prior to the entrance of the sorceress.

The story continues with the pretty Forbidden Love, in which the sorceress fools and seduces the king and begins to cut her swath of destruction and control; enter the magnificent strings – violin and two-stringed erhu and Korb on dizi (Chinese bamboo flute).    In Ancient China, the sorceress expands her empire and conquers the world.  This is a another gorgeous piece wherein pipa joins erhu, and Sharlene Wallace’s harp and Korb’s dizi command our attention.

On the next track, the playful Children’s Jig, Korb’s Celtic propencities take centre stage as we are introduced to the young boy, Le Fong, and his new found friend, the Panda.  The Panda is actually an old man who has had a spell cast upon him by the wicked sorceress.  This track contains a vast assortment of instruments including tabla played by Donald Quan, spoons by Chris Donelly, Wendy Zhao on pipa, Lin Xiaoqiu plays erhu and percussionist Larry Crowe manages to squeeze in cajon box drum, djembe, darbuka, bells and shakers.  Bill Evans plays piano, Steve Lucas, acoustic bass, and Aidan Mason, guitar, with Korb on flute, whistle and dizi.  Phew.

The House of Five Beauties is my favourite piece of all twenty-two, lingering with me long after it tangibly ends.  (And there are so very many to choose from!)  Perhaps it the guqin (ancient seven string zither) or maybe it is the beauteous fusion of all these Chinese instruments with cello, guitar and bass. But whatever it be, there is a wonderful sense of hope as Le Fong (renamed Jade Dragon Flute) and the old man find a way to rid the kingdom of evil and restore peace.  And so end our tales.

These stories are  bookended by fifteen other outstanding pieces,   Two Mountains showcases Korb on the soulful bawu, a folk instrument hailing from Yunan province, Zhao’s exquisite pipa, Laila Biali’s delightful piano and the stealth of Steve Lucas on bass.  While some of the melodies on this recording seem familiar, Magic Sleep takes us into much deeper depths. The unusual xun and xiao flutes are complemented  with the acoustic bass, African kalimba and twenty one-stringed guzheng in intriguing ways. The lovely  Little Jade was written many years ago in Shanghai as a collaborative project between Korb’s band and the group Oriental Angels.   One easily gets lost in thought and meditation with The Beautiful Sadness, The Reed Cave, Joyful Rain and Blue Bamboo.  But my mind never fails to snap back with the enchanting  Country Life, inspired by a walk in the Chinese countryside amongst the farmers.

You’ll want to use Asia Beauty not only as a glorious musical and emotional ride, but also as a guide to Chinese instruments with which you might not be familiar.  You’ll need to set aside some time to fully digest, as this is a complete meal.  But Asia Beauty is time well spent.  Promise.

Ron Korb –  dizi, silver flute, bawu, xun, xiao, kalimba, bass flute, flute, Laila Biali – piano, Donald Quan – piano, tabla, George Koller – bass, Bill Evans, Liana Berube – violin,Larry Crowe – gongs, cymbals, darbuka, Jade Hong – guzheng, Ma Xiang Hua – erhu, Sharlene Wallace – celtic harp, Wendy Zhao – pipa, Yi Qin – pipa, Zhang Di – yangqin, Aidan Mason – guitar, Lucas Tensen – cello, Nam Feihong – Guqin ( ancient seven string zither), guzheng, Paul Intson – kalimba, Lin Xiaoqiu  – Erhu

Asia Beauty2

Children’s Jig

Ancient China

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