Christopher Ho

Growing Up

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Chris Ho does something curious on his picture-perfect ensemble recording Growing Up -- he relegates Smokey Robinson, one of the greatest soul voices of all time, to Nathan East-like soft wordless vocals (doubling with the piano) on the eloquent "Don't Think Too Much." Perhaps Ho has too much integrity as a composer/keyboardist to sell out to the "vocal makes a hit mentality, " but limiting Smokey seems a bit silly. On the other hand, Ho and his unit (featuring guitarist Michael O'Neill and saxman Wayne Wayne, who doubles on flute for passages on the Smokey tune) create what's best described as elegant funk. The tempo of the tune depends on whether drummer David Renick relies on the gentle hi-hat and brush, or more down and dirty skinning. Ho, having established an initial motif, seems to enjoy deferring to Wayne, who carries the bright melodies of such standouts as "Hide and Seek" and the graceful ballad "Jaqueline." Where Ho finds his strength is in his solos in between the sax-led verses of pieces like the quartet oriented, improvisational title track. A tune like this also proves that Ho and friends aren't just your average genre ensemble, creating commercial fare for its own sake. They never delve too deep, but they draw from the bebop tradition often enough to stand out from typical genre keyboard projects.

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