The first Friday night of every month, The San Jose Museum of Modern Art hosts live music. The audience is a strange brew: young hipsters, brie-and-Chard museumgoers, dating retirees, and everyone in between. Even a few jazz fans show up. If they came at the beginning of May for Mo'Fone, they left more than impressed.
Mo'Fone is jazz's answer to rock's power trio. Jeremy Steinkoler leads on the traps, delivering a steady onslaught of jazz and funk rhythms. He never descends into cliché; the dynamic nature of their music never gives him time to. Larry de la Cruz's sax work reminds me of Sonny Stitt in his later days, cool stuff served straight-up, never self-indulgent. What surprised me, and continues to, was the third man in this group, Jim Peterson on the baritone sax. Dressed in a gray double-breasted suit and looking a little like a CPA, he blew a mean horn, jumping with the beat and swooning around to deliver it to a nearby couple who'd decided to dance.
And that's it: no bass, no piano, just two lower-register horns and a drummer. Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet taken to the next degree.
I should add some caution to that comparison, though. Certainly this isn't a simple modern update of LA cool jazz. Everything's dripping of funk, much more modern than Mulligan's neo-Dixieland. And, just to make sure no one in the band (or audience) gets too comfy, both de la Cruz and Peterson deploy an arsenal of saxophones up and down the register, unwilling to sit behind their alto and baritone all night long. Although Mo'Fone's selections are perfect frameworks for improvisation, the group's far too mature to descend into cutting contests or far-out modal wanderings. I mistook one piece as a cover of "Pick Up the Pieces" without all that Average White Band aftertaste, and perhaps that's the best way I can describe their sound. Don't mistake me; this isn't reheated 1970s crossover. The band sounds fresh without losing sight of its jazz grounding. In a word, Mo'Fone delivers.
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