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.
Tuba player Bob Stewart's CD came out about the same time as Howard Johnson's Gravity release, and Stewart suffers by comparison. Bluesman Taj Mahal contributed the much too talky "Big Kneed Gal" and very tedious "Fishin' Blues." Carlos Ward's "Nubian Stomp" is at best uninspired reggae, while his street strut "Nette" barely gains headway in spite of trumpeter Graham Haynes' spirited solo.