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The Underground Railroad to My Heart

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Album Review

One of the major voices in the highly political Asian improvisation movement of the 1980s and '90s, baritonist Fred Ho on this memorable CD performs everything from modernized swing and Charles Mingus-influenced ensembles to short solo baritone pieces and selections that mix together Western and Eastern instruments. He utilizes two ensembles: the 11-piece Journey Beyond the West Orchestra (which includes such instruments as the sona, erbu, and san shuen along with more conventional jazz horns and rhythm, plus occasionally the somewhat jarring Chinese soprano vocals of Cindy Zuoxin Wang) and the five-piece Afro-Asian Music Ensemble. During a set that includes some charming Asian melodies, the episodic "The Underground Railroad to My Heart" (the disc's high point), "Strange Fruit Revisited," an Easternized "Caravan," and even "Auld Lang Syne," there is no lack of variety, color, sincerity, chance-taking, and impressive musicianship. Well worth checking out.


Born: August 10, 1957 in Palo Alto, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Fred Ho's prodigious gifts as a jazz composer were equaled (and augmented) by his drive to effect social change. Ho's leftist leanings informed virtually every piece of music he wrote, often by means of clumsily written agitprop lyrics. The results could be humorous and/or moving, but were more often than not simply leaden. Ignore the heavy-handed preaching, however, and Ho was a sensitive and imaginative composer who learned the lessons of Duke Ellington and applied them to post-Coltrane jazz. Ho...
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The Underground Railroad to My Heart, Fred Ho
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