Fred Ho

All Power to the People: The Black Panther Suite [DVD]

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Originally envisioned as a ballet, Fred Ho's All Power to the People: The Black Panther Suite is presented on DVD as a multimedia document with Ho's insistent music used as a soundtrack for visuals largely drawn from archival photos. The work is an ardent piece of agitprop celebrating to the point of hagiography the militant black power group. Whether one buys into the message will be determined by how one feels about the Black Panthers to start with. Those who view them as a force of the empowerment of oppressed people and militants who linked the struggles of African-Americans with the worldwide socialist struggle will be inspired. Those who view them as ineffective political poseurs more interested in sloganeering than actual action will not be converted. The graphics by Paul Chan evoke old pamphlets and cheaply produced political news sheets. Elsewhere, faces of politicians and other foes swell and shrink in a digital equivalent of drawing a moustache on a picture. And the exclamation mark-pocked titles match that tone. The main attraction of the DVD, though, is Ho's suite. The music strikes a suitably militant tone. Anchored by his own baritone saxophone, the ensemble, sounding much larger than eight pieces, barks out the lines. Still, Ho has clearly learned from Ellington by way of Mingus about voicing saxophones. He draws a lush, vibrant sound from the band that is especially evident on "Loving the People Is a Love Supreme! The Personal Is Political!" Sam Furnace summons the spirit of the free jazz pioneers of the 1960s as he screams over the ensemble on "All Power to the People!" On "Funeral for the Fallen Martyrs" he juxtaposes these saxophones with stinging electric guitar from Michele Navazio to create an eerie cop show soundtrack. Here and elsewhere the music achieves subtlety without sacrificing power in contrast to the smug doctrinaire tone of the graphics.

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