With its surprising and highly combustible line-up of two saxmen and one drummer, the Bay Area-based group MO’FONE has thrilled audiences with some of the funkiest jazz—and jazziest funk—being played today. Powering its way through inventive high-energy original compositions and navigating unexpected tunes by the likes of Weather Report, John Scofield, and Led Zeppelin, MO’FONE makes a huge sound that belies its compact size.
Combining serious musicianship with an infectious sense of fun onstage, MO’FONE also manages to groove with abandon while keeping miraculously in balance, as each member of the band pushes his instrument well beyond its role in a more traditional trio. What’s more, MO’FONE delivers adventurous riffs and grooves, while achieving a sound that’s not only accessible, but instantly addictive. Their groovy improvisations and original concept have earned them the award for Best Jazz Group in the 2008 East Bay Express Readers’ Poll, and secured them slots at the Monterey, San Francisco, and Sonoma Jazz Festivals, in addition to gigs at the Bay Area’s premier live music venues.
“I was hooked from the first track,” wrote the Contra Costa Times of the band’s debut disc, Surf’s Up (Evander Music, 2003). “Mo’Fone proves it’s the biggest little band on the scene. On each piece, the trio finds ingenious ways of creating a full, multitextured, hard grooving sound.”
A healthy portion of that driving sound comes from the mighty baritone sax and bass clarinet of JIM PETERSON, alternating seamlessly between funky bass lines and powerful melodic riffs. A stalwart of the Bay Area scene for more than 20 years, Jim is a veteran of leading bands like Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s, Indigo Swing, and Motordude Zydeco. Soaring overhead on alto sax, clarinet and flute is LARRY DE LA CRUZ, whose own impressive résumé includes stints with Phil Woods, Bobby Hutcherson, the Temptations, Boca do Rio, and Doc Severinsen. Completing the MO’FONE magic is drummer JEREMY STEINKOLER, “a master of second line syncopation” (SF Bay Guardian) whose orchestral approach to percussion drives the trio’s turn-on-a-dime dynamics and gives MO’FONE its third ceaselessly inventive solo voice.
As Allaboutjazz.com summed up the group’s exhilarating and cohesive sound: “This jazz trio is a powerhouse to be reckoned with…. If Mo’Fone doesn’t blow your socks off, you’re not paying attention.”
Larry De La Cruz – alto sax, flute, clarinet, percussion
Jim Peterson – baritone sax, bass clarinet, percussion
Jeremy Steinkoler – drums, percussion
Occasional Special Guests: Dave Ellis, Kirk Joseph, Dann Zinn
Surf's Up (Evander Music, 2003)
Sling Shot (Evander Music, 2009)
"If Mo'Fone doesn't blow your socks off, you're not paying attention."
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Picking over my review of my first encounter with Mo'Fone way back in 2002, I come across this bone-...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 bass player, 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 bass player 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.
"Snaps and crackles like James Brown's Famous Flames mixed with a New Orleans second line."
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Here’s a band that has a concept that is so simple, it’s simply radical! Bay area altoist Larry De L...Here’s a band that has a concept that is so simple, it’s simply radical! Bay area altoist Larry De La Cruz, baritonist Jim Peterson and drummer Jeremy Steinkoler have put together a formidable and funky trio that snaps and crackles like James Brown’s Famous Flames mixed with a New Orleans Second Line. Peterson’s rich molasses riffs mix with Steinkoler’s incessant beat while De La Cruz solos like Maceo Parker on infectious tunes like “Wiggle” and “Say What”. Together, the two saxists can form either a deep Memphis soul groove (“Kattywampus”), or simply take turns soloing over their partners riffs (“Sling Shot”). Dirty Dozen sousaphonist Kirk Joseph adds some Richter scale producing sub tones on a funereal-turned-celebratory “Rock Of Ages” and a delightfully melancholy “Crescent.” Tenorist Dann Zinn solos over a rivuleted groove on a wildly successful reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” while the horn players create a yearning and silky sound on clarinets on the closing “Bee”. This one is a catch! It’ll get you excited about music again!
"One of the hottest bands to surface in a long while."
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Jeremy Steinkoler has been an active participant on the Bay Area jazz scene for more than a decade, ...Jeremy Steinkoler has been an active participant on the Bay Area jazz scene for more than a decade, collaborating with a wide array of players, including guitarists Adam Levy and Andre Bush. He started making a name for himself as a leader with his hard-swinging quartet. But he's definitely reached a new level with Mo'Fone. Judging by his new album, 'Surf's Up' (Evander Music), this extraordinary trio is one of the hottest bands to surface in a long while. Featuring saxophonists Larry De La Cruz and Jim Peterson, who alternate on alto and baritone, the group has developed a stomping repertoire, from Weather Report's classic 'Black Market' and John Scofield's 'Kool' to Led Zeppelin's 'Black Dog' and Jimi Hendrix's 'Manic Depression.' The group came together about two years when Steinkoler had a monthly gig at Cato's Ale House in Piedmont.
The chemistry was so strong that they kept at it, developing material that fit the instrumentation. The concept works because Steinkoler's drumming is so orchestral, filling up just enough space so that the band's sound is always crunchy and satisfying. Steinkoler performs with both his quartet and Mo'Fone at Yoshi's on August 25 in one of Jazz In Flight's last gigs at the club.
"One of the funkiest jazz albums you'll ever hear.
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Mo’fone’s return to the studio to record a follow-up to “Surf’s Up” is pretty good news for jazz fan...Mo’fone’s return to the studio to record a follow-up to “Surf’s Up” is pretty good news for jazz fans. “Surf’s Up,” released in 2003, is one of the funkiest jazz albums you’ll ever hear. The band’s cover of Weather Report’s “Black Market,” which leads the album, has enthralled several of my middle-aged friends and their teenaged children. Jim Peterson dances around the melody with his alto saxophone while Larry De La Cruz on baritone saxophone and Jeremy Steinkoler on drums provide a New Orleans-based funk beat underneath. Peterson and De La Cruz exchange instruments for a straight-up funk rendition of Billy Cobham’s “Crosswind.” If the song had been recorded three years earlier it would have been a perfect fit on the soundtrack of John Singleton’s update of “Shaft.” The song, like John Shaft, moves with a jaunty swagger that’s bound to make more than a few women stop and take notice. Mo’fone’s version of David Murray’s “Flowers for Albert” is my favorite track on the album. Danny Bitker joined the group on bass saxophone for the tune, which allows De la Cruz to play the flute. Joined by Peterson on alto saxophone, they form a sort of free jazz trio that reminds me a little of Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir. The difference is that Steinkoler again drives the song with a funky New Orleans beat. The group illustrates its Crescent City chops on Earl King’s “Big Chief.” And the guys show they’ve been influenced by music from around the world when they play Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Market.” Steinkoler’s percussion work on the song is outstanding; he sounds almost like he’s performing in an African production of “Stomp." I envy my friends who live in San Francisco because Mo’fone, which is based there, plays Bay area shows all the time. But at least there’s a new album coming. We all need a little more groove in our lives.
"My favorite album of the year by far."
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My favorite album of the year by far is 'Surf's Up' (Evander Music) by the extraordinary trio Mo'Fon...My favorite album of the year by far is 'Surf's Up' (Evander Music) by the extraordinary trio Mo'Fone, an East Bay band featuring drummer Jeremy Steinkoler and saxophonists Larry De La Cruz and Jim Peterson, who alternate on alto and baritone. I was hooked from the first track, a buoyant, almost giddy version of Weather Report's 'Black Market,' with De La Cruz's surging bari replacing Jaco Pastorius' lithe basswork.
The group came together through serendipity about two years ago when a bassist didn't show up for Steinkoler's gig at Cato's Ale House in Piedmont. De La Cruz lives nearby, so he came to the rescue at the last minute, joining Peterson for an unusual two-saxophone and drums trio. "We had so much fun playing, we said, 'Let's do that again," Steinkoler said. "A monthly gig at Cato's gave us a chance to work out material, and as soon as we started doing it, I felt really comfortable. I wasn't missing bass or rhythm guitar. It gave me a chance to use the bass drum in a different role."
Steinkoler's orchestral approach to the trap set is thrilling. He's a whirlwind of activity, filling up empty spaces without sounding busy. But what makes 'Surf's Up' such an exhilarating ride is its range of material. From Earl King's Mardi Gras classic 'Big Chief' and Abdullah Ibrahim's savanna pastoral 'African Market' to Billy Cobham's funk-laden 'Crosswinds' and John Scofield's intricately grooving 'Kool,' Mo'Fone proves it's the biggest little band on the scene. On each piece, the trio finds ingenious ways of creating a full, multitextured, hard swinging sound. "It starts with one of us hearing a tune and imagining it in a different way, a combination of melody and bass line, and then we don't need no stinkin' chords,' Steinkoler said. "Sometimes we'll come in with a tune you wouldn't think would work. How can you play 'Big Chief' without the piano? Jim figures out parts he can fill up, weaving back and forth between bass parts and harmony. It kind of fools your ear. We've tried 'Black Dog' by Led Zeppelin, and we're dong 'Manic Depression' at the CD release.
"Mo'Fone puts the fun back in funk."
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Mo’Fone, the San Francisco-based trio of alto saxophonist Larry De La Cruz, baritone saxophonist Jim...Mo’Fone, the San Francisco-based trio of alto saxophonist Larry De La Cruz, baritone saxophonist Jim Peterson and drummer Jeremy Steinkoler, puts the fun back in funk. Steinkoler slams with authority while the horns intertwine in syncopated fashion on party numbers like “Wiggle,” “Sling Shot” and “Seven Evan.” Sousaphone ace and Dirty Dozen founder Kirk Joseph guests on the funereal “Rock of Ages,” while tenorman Dann Zinn blends on a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.”
"Mo'Fone brings the grease."
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Following in the footsteps of another raucous Bay Area horn band, Tower of Power, *Mo’Fone* brings t...Following in the footsteps of another raucous Bay Area horn band, Tower of Power, *Mo’Fone* brings the grease on its new recording, Sling Shot (Evander). Yet Mo’Fone manages to get that huge sound with just three players, albeit three seasoned vets of the Bay Area jazz and blues scenes. On the front line, Larry De La Cruz lays down snaky leads on alto sax and clarinet, while Jim Peterson blows fat and funky rhythms on baritones sax and bass clarinet. Holding it all down with sinewy, slinky backbeats, drummer Jeremy Steinkoler lends another layer of booty-shaking propulsion. The kickoff track to Sling Shot, the aptly titled “Wiggle,” invites listeners to get up offa that thang, and we urge you to do the same when you play the track.
"In a word, Mo'Fone delivers."
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The first Friday night of every month, The San Jose Museum of Modern Art hosts live music. The audie...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 cliche; 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.
"Spicier than ever."
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A little taste of the bayou via the Bay Area, Mo'Fone brings a tight, big-band sound influenced by N...A little taste of the bayou via the Bay Area, Mo'Fone brings a tight, big-band sound influenced by New Orleans and smoothed out by its local environs. This year, the trio was voted Best Jazz Group by the East Bay Express and released a new CD, Sling Shot. The first album since the band's 2003 debut, Sling Shot finds baritone saxophonist Jim Peterson, Larry De La Cruz (who plays alto sax), and drummer Jeremy Steinkoler sounding spicier than ever.
"Mo'Fone achieves a mighty big sound on its debut release.
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From the streets of Soweto to those of New Orleans on Mardi Gras day, Mo'Fone takes a delightful, de...From the streets of Soweto to those of New Orleans on Mardi Gras day, Mo'Fone takes a delightful, decidedly different romp through the musical riches of the African diaspora. The group's approach falls somewhere between those of the World Saxophone Quartet and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but its instrumentation is more minimal than either. Composed of just trap drummer Jeremy Steinkoler and saxophonists Larry De La Cruz and Jim Peterson, with Danny Bittker adding a third sax voice on 3 of the 10 tracks. Mo'Fone achieves a mighty big sound on its debut release. The saxophonists double on clarinets and flutes, and each takes a turn at the bottom, blowing ostinatos on baritone or bass sax over which the others soar in solos that at times suggest the urgency of Albert Ayler or Arthur Blythe. Steinkoler, a master of second line syncopation in the tradition of such Crescent City giants as James Black and Zigaboo Modeliste, provides the glue that holds together Mo'Fone's original tunes and intriguing treatments of material borrowed from Professor Longhair, Weather Report, Billy Cobham, David Murray, John Scofield, Hemant Kumar, and Abdullah Ibrahim.
We can play up to 4 hours of tunes without repeats. Typical sets are 45-55 min.
Sling Shot (JP)
Rock of Ages (JS)
Seven Evan (JS)
Say What (JS)
On Call (JP)
Soul Mates (JP)
Natt Tog (JP)
Surf's Up (JP)
View of the valley (LDLC)
Seamus' Lament (JS)
Kool (John Scofield)
Big Chief (Earl King/Prof. Longhair)
Black Market (Weather Report)
Fool in the Rain (Led Zeppelin)
Chicken (Jaco Pastorius)
Crosswind (Billy Cobham)
African Market (Abdullah Ibrahim)
All Over Now (Bobby Womack)
Super Blue (Freddie Hubbard)
Dewey's Tune (Dewey Redman)
Flowers for Albert (David Murray)
Manic Depression (Jimi Hendrix)
Nostalgia in Times Square (Charles Mingus)
Billie's Bounce (Charlie Parker)
Go to the Mardi Gras (Prof. Longhair)
Didn't He Ramble (Trad.)
Blue Monk (Thelonius Monk)
Mysterious Traveler (Weather Report)
Cold Sweat (James Brown)
Water from an Ancient Well (Abdullah Ibrahim)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.