One of the leading composers of his generation,
New York-based Chinese-American saxophonist and sociologist
Fred Ho (born Fred Wei-han Houn in Palo Alto) founded
the Monkey Orchestra (1980),
the Asian-American Art Ensemble (1981)
and the Afro-Asian Music Ensemble (1982), all of them fusing
Western and Eastern instruments and influenced by
Charles Mingus' big bands.
His recordings include:
Tomorrow Is Now (Soul Note, 1986),
Bamboo That Snaps Back (Finnadar, 1987),
A Song for Manong (AsianImprov, 1988),
We Refuse to be Used and Abused (november 1987), that contains the suite
Never Broken Always Outspoken;
the Asian-American Art Ensemble's The Underground Railroad to My Heart (recorded in 1993), that contains recordings from several sessions and in particular the suite
The Underground Railroad to My Heart
the Monkey Orchestra's Monkey Part One (october 1996) and Monkey Part Two (october 1996), that collect the Chinese-jazz hybrid
multimedia work Journey Beyond the West;
the Afro Asian Music Ensemble's ten-movement suite Turn Pain Into Power (OO Discs, 1997), that contains the 17-minute
Turn Pain into Power/ The Climbers/ Essay to Us;
Yes Means Yes, No Means No, Whatever She Says, Wherever She Goes (december 1996),
the double CD Warrior Sisters (january 1998)
the vampyre opera Night Vision (Big Red Media, 1999),
The Way of the Saxophone (Innova, 2000),
the 12-movement theater piece Once Upon a Time in Chinese America (december 1999), that also requires dancers and kungfu fighters,
the dvd The Black Panther Suite (Innova, 2003),
Red Arc - A Call for Liberacion (2005), a collaboration with a poet,
and Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon (premiered in june 2006).
He also played in the Brooklyn Sax Quartet, co-founded with composer and
arranger David Bindman in 1997: The Way Of Saxophone (july 2000)
(featuring Ho on baritone, Chris Jonas on soprano, Sam Furnace on alto and David Bindman on tenor) and
Far Side Of Here (october 2003 and may 2004)
with John O'Gallagher on soprano and Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, and with most
compositions still written by
Bindman, notably The Black Nation.
The Afro Asian Music Ensemble's
Big Red (october 2004) collects several ambitious compositions:
Kayasong, Suite Sam Furnace, Free Mumia Suite, Gadzo, The Un and Ir Suite, and Big Red, a tribute to Malcolm X and Mao Zedong.
Celestial Green Monster (december 2008) documents
the Green Monster Big Band, an ensemble with Bobby Zankel and Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Hafez Modirzadeh and Salim Washington (tenor sax), Stanton Davis, Brian Kilpatrick and Amir Elsaffar (trumpet), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Robert Pilkington, Marty Wehner and Richard Harper (trombone), Earl MacIntyre and David Harris (contrabass trombone), Art Hirahara (piano, electronic keyboard), Wes Brown (electric and acoustic bass) and Royal Hartigan (drum set).
The ballet The Sweet Science Suite (premiered in november 2011) is
a tribute to boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).
Shake up the World stands as an introduction of sorts to the era,
and the horns repeat the staccato riff of Cream's The Sunshine of Your Love in between swinging melodic phrases.
A faster version of that riff propels Float Like A Butterfly into
ballroom dance territory, but the carnival-like atmosphere is disturbed
by a liquid organ solo and ends with an ironic sax solo.
The brainy 16-minute No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger is both less
linear (quite confusing at times, actually) and less jovial.
The somnolent elegy Rope-A-Dope inevitably revs up towards the end
although it is still burdened by bouts of melancholy.
The frenzied pace of Worthy of Praises Most High evokes dixieland jazz
and even charleston but in a much sterilized and inoculated version before
decaying into anemic interplay.
The way the horns support and play with each other is most of the fun.
Ho died in april 2014.