Picking over my review of my first encounter with Mo'Fone way back in 2002, I come across this bone-grating comparison: "I mistook one piece as a cover of 'Pick Up the Pieces' without all that Average White Band aftertaste." I'm compelled to apologize to Mo'Fone for this mistake because, in hindsight, I see it's so patronizing. Last year's release of Surf's Up proves this jazz trio is a powerhouse to be reckoned with. These ten tracks are fresh and relevant and outrageously great.
As noted previously, the most conspicuous features of this band are its exclusions. Although lacking a pianist and a bassist, Mo'Fone's high-octane funk-drenched sound challenges the listener at every step; this is not a CD to fall asleep to.
The group's theme song, a cover of John Scofield's "Kool," offers some particulars as explanation. After an exchange of soft brass, the trio announces the rhythmic bridge in unison followed by an introduction of the melody. Larry De La Cruz works the upper registers on the alto sax while Jim Peterson blows a staccato bass line with a baritone sax; he's so succinct that a bassist would only be redundant. Jeremy Steinkoler keeps everything flowing smoothly with solid trap work. The brass is brassy, the percussion crisp, and the exchange of solos that follows maintains constant interest.
With such a small group, it's expected that the funky groove of "Kool" would be lost when one member goes off to solo, but everyone stays inside supporting the soloist with unobtrusive call-and-responses. Steinkoler demonstrates the most restrained drum solo in recent memory by simply playing through while the other two take a brief breather. It's muscular music with a sense of humor and some wit.
While most tracks off Surf's Up echo the boisterous energy of "Kool," Mo'Fone reveals a more serious side in David Murray's "Flowers for Albert" and "Mera Dil Yeh Pukare/Man Dole Mera," the latter a cover from the soundtrack of a Bengali film. The group achieves an Eastern sound by droning the horns while Steinkoler subtly slaps the drums with his hands to mimic a tabla. Danny Bittker is brought in for additional sax work on these two tracks and he slides in without a hitch. This material also indicates the wide spectrum the group draws upon for inspiration and direction. It's not surprising to see Billy Cobham and Joe Zawinul covered here, but Mo'Fone's arrangements are never slavish to an original.
Surf's Up stands as an impressive debut as well as a significant demonstration of jazz's (and fusion's) possibilities. Finally, a cerebral band with guts enough to take big risks. If Mo'Fone doesn't blow your socks off, you're not paying attention.
Track Listing: Black Market, Crosswind, Flowers for Albert, On Call, Kool, Mera Dil Yeh Pukare / Man
Dole Mera, Big Chief, View of the Valley, Surf's Up, African Market
Personnel: Larry De La Cruz: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, percussion / Jim
Peterson: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion / Jeremy
Steinkoler: drums & percussion / Danny Bittker: bass saxophone, tenor saxophone
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good. I was 16 at the time. I went to Tower Records and purchased a CD by Wes, and I was hooked from the very first ten seconds. The sound of the song Lolita illuminated my bedroom, as I just sat back amazed at how colorful and soulful this music was--I understood it, even though at the time I didn't understand how to go about playing it. I get chills listening to Wes' solo on Lolita, and I can still listen to that song ten times in a row and never get tired of it. There is a truly timeless quality to genuinely spontaneous jazz music, and it is that quality that has inspired me to devote my life to studying and playing this music.