This cover’s popped up in many an online geddaloada booga-booga, but fuck that shit, for real. This is Fred Ho, and for 20-plus years he’s chucked earholes to nirvana with some of the most thoughtful, powerful, and joyful living jazz ever breathed. So, really, if you can’t get past a jacket shot of a naked man painted green and posed with a baritone sax large enough to ride the big-boy bumper cars, perhaps you should go back to snorting oatmeal and leave the rest of us alone.
“What, ho!” cries Mr. Ho, and we’re off to pleasures unbound on soundscapes with teeth. First served is a version of the “Spider-Man” theme, then we bubble as one into a casino-lounged-up (remember to tip yer waitress, and mitts off the valleys, bub, or KIRIKKKK!) “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” with vocals and spellbinding ululations by Abraham Gomez-Delgado and Haleh Abghari (the spellbinder), and familiar, snarly-gnarly catgut from the faithful tendrils of Mary Halverson.
While the band chugs and vamps for the next 16 minutes, let’s list the lineup by name and trade: Fred Ho (leader/baritone sax — we’ve met); Bobby Zankel and Jim Hobbs (alto sax — hopefully, they each have their own); Hafez Modirzadeh and Salim Washington (tenor sax); Stanton Davis, Brian Kilpatrick, and Samir El-Amin (trumpet); Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet/”Name Game” inspiration); Robert Pilkington, Marty Wehner, and Richard Harper (trombone, 93 short); Earl MacIntyre and David Harris (contrabass trombone); Art Hirahara (piano, electronic keyboard); Wes Brown (electric and acoustic bass); and Royal Hartigan (drums). Ah, we’ve finished just in time for Mr. Hartigan’s solo shift, here titled “Journey to the Dark Heart, Enter the Serpents of Stratification.” Oop — solo’s over. Isn’t psychedelic music a hoot? I’ll have another shot of the Iron Butterfly; put it on Doug Ingle’s tab.
Awright, enough fun and games. Ho goes serious on “Liberation Genesis,” an original composition first burned to parchment in 1975 and still exploding with coldcock 35 years later. Teams of saxes contemplate one another carefully, then unite as one chuffed front of freedom, their solidarity stamped and approved by triumphant trumpets (can’t say one without sorta sayin’ the other, right?) and a light ivory back-scritch from a flirty lover who digs your open-minded vibe. The tone lasts through “Blues to the Freedom Fighters,” as an entire horn section gooses itself for thrills; trombones harrumph in response. Wes Brown thumps a creep-a-deep bass to grip our hips and help us transition to the big-finish crush.
At last we arrive for the “The Struggle for a New World,” a 38-minute soiree prefaced by an unsettling epigraph from Rachel Carson. “The modern world worships the gods of speed and quantity,” she mused, “and of quick and easy profit, and out of this idolatry, monstrous evils have arisen.” Here’s the spooky part: These sage words were uttered in — gasp! — 1963. Who knows what the poor woman would think now. She’d probably just truncate her disdain, tweet it with a trending hashmark, and hope for the best. Musical movements tussle within the confines of the piece, amid a hearty maelstrom of squawks, squeaks, and scolds. Ho stuffs his pipes with thorns in the “Battleground Earth Blues” section; Art Hirahara stumbles down electronic keys as Royal Hartigan knocks them all about. The piano rules in “Patience, Passion and Praxis” — perhaps it perseveres on alliteration alone. (The part of “Passion” will be played by piano.) Lip-smacking skins propel “Up Against the Wall You *$%&@# Gods of Corporate Profit!” — “Guerillas Gone Wild,” indubitably.
Whew. Man, that Ho whips up a helluva soup, and you best come famished, friend. Clothing optional. At the very least, you’ll get your socks blown off.