I’m honored to discuss this CD. I found Fred Ho’s Monkey: Part One a glorious surprise, and this second section of his musical setting for the trickster tale is no disappointment. The ensemble’s personnel has few changes, notably Francis Wong as tenorist; but its spirit remains dramatic, flexible and visionary as Ho achieves tremendous range from trombone, three saxophones (including his own baritone), bass and drums, and several performers on Chinese traditional instruments.
Monkey is a two-part recording of baritone saxophonist Fred Ho's multimedia musical Journey Beyond the West, centered around the Chinese trickster figure of Monkey (à la Coyote in much native American lore) that combines Chinese folk music and instrumentation with jazz. Acts I and III (composed in 1990/1989, respectively) are featured here, with Acts II and IV (both written in 1994) on the companion Monkey, Pt. 2 disc.
Snake-Eaters debuts Fred Ho's Saxophone Liberation Front, featuring composer Ho on baritone saxophone and Hafez Modirzadeh (soprano), Bobby Zankel (alto) and Salim Washington (tenor). Darker than Blue, inspired by Curtis Mayfield's song, We the People Who are Darker than Blue, employs shifting meters (including a blues section in 11/8 and 11.5 /8), 12-tone serialism, compound meter ostinati, and Lydian chromatic approaches to orchestration. Ho's Yellow Power, Yellow Soul Suite coincides with the soon-to-be publication of the Drs. Roger Buckley and Tamara Roberts' festschrift by the same title, and includes the previously recorded "Fishing Song of the East China Sea" (originally a flute trio with bass violin on the out-of-print recording by Fred Ho and the Asian American Art Ensemble, Bamboo that Snaps Back; and the now-defunct Brooklyn Sax Quartet recording The Far Side of Here), as well as Afro-Asian adaptations of other Asian folk songs.
To approximate the first half of Fred Ho's album Year of the Tiger, it's necessary to imagine the sound that might be created if the members of Duke Ellington & His Orchestra were mixed with the players from Parliament/Funkadelic and set loose on the Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix catalogs. That's right, songs like "Thriller" and "Purple Haze" get severely retrofitted into an aggressive, irreverent jazz-funk style, with harsh, massed horn parts. Sometimes, the sound resembles a couple of high-school marching bands fighting it out on the same football field.
Calvin Massey (1928-1972) is virtually unknown with the exception of both highly knowledgeable jazz scholars and a small coterie of illustrious musicians who remain alive and were immensely indebted to Massey s musical influence and mentorship. Massey was a father figure and close friend to many of the greatest jazz musicians of the post-World War era until his early death in 1972. Massey was a trumpeter, but was most noted as a composer of magisterial works, of which his epic opus was The Black Liberation Movement Suite, an extended work of nine movements. Until now, the work had never been recorded in its entirety. Cal Massey ranked among the greatest jazz composers of the 20th century, included with Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra.
One of the major voices in the highly political Asian improvisation movement of the 1980s and '90s, baritonist Fred Ho on this memorable CD performs everything from modernized swing and Charles Mingus-influenced ensembles to short solo baritone pieces and selections that mix together Western and Eastern instruments. He utilizes two ensembles: the 11-piece Journey Beyond the West Orchestra (which includes such instruments as the sona, erbu, and san shuen along with more conventional jazz horns and rhythm, plus occasionally the somewhat jarring Chinese soprano vocals of Cindy Zuoxin Wang) and the five-piece Afro-Asian Music Ensemble.
It’s not every day that you run into a musician who joins a protean range of talents—as a composer, saxophonist, writer and bandleader–-with a commitment to Marxist ideology….For twenty years now Fred Ho and his Afro Asian Music Ensemble have been defending the turf where the personal and the political slam into the maelstrom of new jazz…a fiercely imaginative baritone saxophonist and composer.