Year of the Tiger
Year of the Tiger
The Old Fred Ho (also known until 1988 as Fred Houn) died on August 4, 2006 of advanced colo-rectal cancer. His progeny, the New Fred Ho, born August 5, 2006, has taken up the mantle of his predecessor, including forming the incredible Green Monster Big Band, a gathering of Who’s Who of virtuosi-improvisers across the U.S.; continuing to lead the Afro Asian Music Ensemble; and imagining and producing fantastic new stage productions of manga-opera/martial-arts/music theater.
FRED HO and the GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND's second recording, YEAR OF THE TIGER, debuts on Innova. Year of the Tiger spans the "popular avant garde" palette of composer Ho's fondness for television themes (here The Johnny Quest Theme), a medley tribute to the late Michael Jackson (Very, Very Baaad!, with a version of "Thriller" that has a Wachowski Brothers-Noam Chomsky tongue-in-cheek spoof upon the late Vincent Price's iconic oratorio), two fresh interpretations of Jimi Hendrix ("Fire" and "Purple Haze"), one of Ho's boyhood idols, a new opus by Ho, Take the Zen Train, commissioned by Harvard University (Ho was awarded the 2009-2010 Harvard Arts Medal), along with a combined children and adult choir with Chinese instrumentation version of a martial arts-movie theme classic (Hero Among Heroes) and an excerpt from a new opera collaboration between Ho and librettist Ruth Margraff, Cleopatra and Anthony (an Afro-centric manga-opera). Composer-baritone saxophone virtuoso FRED HO has assembled one of American music's most extraordinary large ensembles, THE GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND, featuring a stellar assembly of musician-improvisers and a repertoire that encompasses vanguard extended works by Ho to his imaginative arrangements of Rock and Pop classics by Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, adding a powerful freshness and revolutionary excitement to the big band tradition from Ellington to Sun Ra. And if this combination wasn't incredulous enough, Ho has added to the big band repertoire his personal childhood Television theme-song favorites (eg., The Spider-Man Theme or The Johnny Quest Theme)!
THE GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND features the greatest and most creative musicians of our era, some with considerable fame as jazz and improvised music veterans, such as Earl McIntyre, Jr. (bass trombone), Stanton Davis (trumpet), Bobby Zankel (alto saxophone); and others who are emerging as the new vanguard, including Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Amir ElSaffar (trumpet), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar); virtuoso dynamos as the triple-high C lead trumpeter Winston Byrd; highly individualized soloists such as Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone) and Salim Washington (tenor saxophone), the most incredible trombone section of Bob Pilkington, Marty Wehner, Richard Harper and David Harris, along with Earl McIntyre, Jr.; Wes Brown on bass and Art Hirahara on keyboard, comprising a special rhythm section who can groove as easily in complicated and convoluted odd-meters as most can in common time; and to top it off, revolutionary innovators who music history and most jazz journalism has been unable to catch up with, such as Dr. Hafez Modirzadeh (chromodal-tenor saxophone) and Dr. royal hartigan (Afro/Asian world music multiple percussion master).
FRED HO THE COMPOSER uniquely and incredibly traverses across genres with both ease and innovation, his compositions having been commissioned by and featured at some of the most prestigious artistic institutions of the U.S., including the American Composers Orchestra (When the Real Dragons Fly! at Carnegie Hall), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (for Josephine Baker’s Angels from the Rainbow for the Imani Winds), the Guggenheim Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival (for Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey and Voice of the Dragon: Once Upon a Time in Chinese America…), and most recently, Fanfare to Stop the Creeping Meatball! by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the 2011 Tanglewood Music Festival. His works personify the cross-cultural hybridity of American New Music and Jazz. His six-octave range and fluency with extended and esoteric techniques on the baritone saxophone equals his prodigious abilities as a composer and creator of operas and other large-scale, epic works (including genres he has originated such as "Manga Music/Theater" and "Martial Arts Ballets" and "Living Comic Book Performance"). Ho's distinguished awards include two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (in Jazz Composition and Opera/Musical-Theater), three New York Foundation for the Arts Music Composition fellowships, six Rockefeller Foundation awards, the Duke Ellington Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, the Harvard Arts Medal, and the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction.
At the end of 2008, having faced three bouts of advanced colo-rectal cancer, and the likelihood of imminent death, Ho assembled a group of his favorite musicians from his 30 year career as a one final hurrah to celebrate their friendship and mutual respect, and to make what Ho had believed was going to be his final recording. FRED HO THE BARITONE SAXOPHONIST in this recording demonstrates his virtuosity with a six-octave range on the low-A baritone saxophone and an indelible and unique sound and approach to that horn that establishes him as one of its greatest innovators and performers.
"[T]his is avant garde big band … It certainly isn’t grandpa’s big band music but it sure as hell takes you some place electronics and samples can’t. Wild stuff that open eared listeners have to hear to believe---and enjoy. Check it out." - Chris Spector, Midwest Record
"[The] music combines what seem like wildly disparate interests--free jazz, funky brass bands, Chinese traditional music, radical politics and popular culture--but in Ho’s hands the results are typically compelling, accessible to a wide audience and come with a leavening of good humor that was once a staple of 'serious' jazz. Ho is really at his best on 'Thriller,' where new lyrics turn Jackson’s hit into a sci-fi nightmare about commercialism and zombies. It may not make sense on paper, but when you hear it you’ll be rocking out and laughing at the same time. This stuff is way beyond category and absolutely worth hearing." - Bill Lupoletti, Global A-Go-Go
… a crazed, out-there album that's not so much recorded as partied into place by accomplished jazz-extracted co-conspirators. This is big-band music like you have never heard it before. 'Take the Zen Train' [is] the most satisfying set on this 14-track album. This sextet of linked Ho originals is a fascinating study in contrasts of rhythm, mood and how to set up complements and oppositions with the different sections of the band. There isn't a single dull moment on this boundary-stretching CD. (3 out of 4 stars) - John Terauds, Toronto Star
"Practically standing the big band tradition and its head, American gigantism is emphasized on Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band’s Year of the Tiger … [H]e blends formalist bel canto singing with instrumental looseness from an improvising ensemble [and] Ho’s arrangement of the Hendrix melodies play up their jazz-rock linkage as tremolo trombone slurs and roistering sax vamps parallel the double-tracked vocals. "The CD’s heart is contained in the six selections of 'Take the Zen Train,' which manages to reference both Pete Seeger and Duke Ellington. Using instrumental pulsations and layering, with bellowing brass reverb and tension-and-release variants plus the vibrancy of frequent tempo changes, Ho composes tonal portraits for his soloists. Outstanding are cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum’s whispering and peeping ballad feature; the stop-time slurs and gutbucket expansions from bass trombonist David Harris; plus an interlude which matches alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs’ reed masticating alongside the composer’s snorting baritone sax runs." - Ken Waxman, The Whole Note