Fred Ho

Turn Pain into Power

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This album is an excellent example of what Fred Ho does best -- and worst. Ho's music on this disc is formally complex, rhythmically varied, and emotionally compelling; his composition and band-leading skills cannot be praised too highly. He writes tonally, for the most part, with infusions of the blues and various folk music. Ho's sound is sax-centric. His primary sax section -- Sam Furnace on alto, Allen Won on tenor, and Ho on baritone -- works together hand-in-glove; the band is a descendent of Charles Mingus' late-'50s and early-'60s ensembles (particularly the latter's group with Booker Ervin and John Handy). The rhythm section swings freely, yet plays down Ho's difficult forms with aplomb. Ho's imagination is vast, and his leadership skills must be strong; it's unusual to hear jazz that so successfully combines freedom and precision. The group plays like a band, not a collection of freelancers. Ho also writes for voice, which is the downside of this music, for his texts are seldom artful -- especially those he pens himself. Indeed, they are frequently embarrassingly heavy-handed. It's difficult to criticize, in a way, for his musical settings are so natural; he has a definite gift for something that resembles jazz opera or cantata. The leftist political lyrics tend to be blunt and without grace (though not without worth, it should be added; they're moving in their way). Let Ho put away his poet's quill and give him a first-rate librettist, and he's liable to create something special. His compositions for small jazz ensemble are remarkable enough in themselves.

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