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, flute, pandero, cowbell, clarinet, shakers / Jim Peterson: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, tambourine, bass clarinet / Jeremy Steinkoler: drums, guiro / Danny Bittker: bass saxophone, tenor saxophone
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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