Being a torchbearer in jazz today means keeping the spirit of bygone eras economically viable, if not truly alive. Fred Ho is the exception to the rule. The composer-baritone saxophonist is reigniting the all but snuffed jazz tradition of political activism. His two-act opera, Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors, is a powerful rallying cry for courage in the face of oppression, and a cogent statement about the essential role of women in the attainment of social justice.
It is also a finely crafted jazz opera. Ho’s skill in melding Asian and African materials with a modernist sensibility (in which such politically attuned composers as Mingus and Roach loom large) makes a potentially unwieldy narrative flow throughout this 90-minute work. Additionally, Ho’s writing for voices is particularly impressive, as he repeatedly elicits an uplifting swing from the strident rhythms of Ann T. Greene’s libretto.
Ho is supported by a strong cast of principal singers, including Ann McPhail, Alison Easter, Shan Min Yu, and Liza Lapira. While the chorus is comprised of only a dozen singers, it is more than adequate. Ho’s Afro Asian Music Ensemble-a septet including saxophonists, Sam Furnace, David Bindman, and Andy Laster, bassist Santi DeBriano, pianist Richard Harper, and percussionist Royal Hartigan and Diana Herold-sounds at times like an orchestra twice its actual size.