FRED HO AND THE GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND – Celestial Green Monster

Mutable

Baritone saxophonist and fervent campaigner Fred Ho has been wrestling against an aggressive cancer for almost five years now. The chronicles of this battle are easily available on the web, so any further detail on the issue is going to be circumvented in this write-up. The CD reviewed here – whose title will be better understood by taking a look at its cover – fulfils the leader’s aspiration of gathering a lot of the musicians with whom he’s collaborated in the past under the umbrella of a single project.

This tight and well-rehearsed big band (3 saxes, 3 trumpets and a cornet, 5 trombones, keyboards, bass and drums) is a means for the ChinAmerican reedist to manifest both a genuine passion for the precursors of the format and his displeasure with “America’s classical music”, namely corporate jazz. Besides performing the leader’s compositions (with honourable mention to 1975’s magnificent “Liberation Genesis”) they deliver two sizzling versions of classics such as “Spiderman Theme” and Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” (the latter featuring the apparently ubiquitous Mary Halvorson – spelled “Halverson” all over the place except the press release – on electric guitar). The mix of inherent humour and harmonic drama could evoke a vague parallelism with Frank Zappa’s 1988 group in singular instances: the similarity of the succession of events and solos in Ho’s “Blues To The Freedom Fighters” and that ensemble’s rendition of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” is oddly coincidental. Traces of Stan Kenton were also sniffed, meshed together with hundreds of other respectable influences. The outcome is positively individual nonetheless.

Parts of this stuff might not sound strictly revolutionary after all, but the energy that the whole attempts to transmit is impressive given the above mentioned circumstances. At 73-plus minutes, and with a very long final track (the rather complex “The Struggle For A New World Suite”), our concentration tends to dwindle a bit every once in a while, due to a few inevitable similarities and some scattered chips of comparative ordinariness. But as a demonstration of sound’s influence in fighting illness, this album works just fine. May this man continue to be blessed by that force.

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