A composer who writes a 16-minute big-band piece based on "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" isn't going for subtlety — but then, he probably wouldn't appear nude and painted green on his CD cover, either. Yes, baritone-saxophonist and bandleader Ho likes to paint in broad strokes, with propulsive funk, rock, and swing riffs and brawny solos.
Occasionally, he pounds out his vamps well past their welcome. But most of the time, his arrangements for a top tier of soloists (including a handful of Bostonians) keep things moving. Jim Hobbs's alto sax propels the TV "Spiderman Theme," and Art Hirahara's vintage electric keyboard and Mary Halverson's electric guitar transcend the built-in psychedelic yuks of the Iron Butterfly number.
"Blues to the Freedom Fighters" begins with a minute of eloquent high-low sparring between Taylor Ho Bynum's cornet and David Harris's contrabass trombone. And the 38-minute "Struggle for a New World Suite" proves that Ho can sustain his devices over a long haul and even take us to a few unexpected moments of timeless reprieve. His political agenda is of a piece with his superhero persona and his humor — all of which makes him hard not to like.