It was just two months ago when Alphonse Mouzon let the world know that he was suffering from a rare form of cancer called Neuroendocrine Carcinoma and starting to raise money for the expensive treatment. He was showing a picture of himself in a hospital, smiling and spreading hope, willing to fight what was ahead. Now the sad news came in that he died on Monday. He was 68.
I first came across Alphonse Mouzon on a live double album which featured several Blue Note Records artists and which was recorded at the Roxy in Los Angeles in 1976. Side One of the double LP started with three tracks by the drummer who, earlier that year, released “The Man Incognito”. The soul-jazz of “New York City” and the fusion masterpieces “Without A Reason” and “Just Like The Sun” got me hooked and so I started to check out his music. Interestingly enough, this was the time when a lot of jazz artists were bashed of “selling out” to the disco/r&b/soul/funk market which was exactly the kind of music I was listening to in the early 80s. And the reason why I started to explore the music of Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, George Benson, etc.
So it was “Step Into The Funk” in the hot summer of 1982 which became my very first Mouzon LP, starting out with a heavily synthesized disco stomper, “I Don’t Want To Lose This Feeling”, complete with irresistible backing vocals and a production which was totally different from anything else which was out there at the time. The album featured Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Lee Ritenour, Michael Brecker, Tom Scott, and the Seawind Horns on a couple of tracks, but it was clearly Alphonse’s record because he didn’t only play the drums on it, but all synthesizers, Rhodes, and electric pianos solos. And his singing style was special, too. Somewhat quirky, but heavily effective and charming, like on the funkified disco track “Saving My Love For You”. There was also a hint of quiet storm/smooth jazz which would become popular years later (“When We Were Young”). The simple and yet pretty fancy “The Lady In Red” still resonates 34 years later.
Alphonse of course had already made a name of himself through his four Blue Note albums, starting out in 1973 with “Funky Snakefoot”. And with his work in Weather Report and Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House. He also recorded for the German MPS Records and started his own company, Tenacious Records, in the early 80s which became his outlet for his releases until 2011 (the return to his jazz roots with “Angel Face” featuring Christian McBride, Ernie Watts, Kenny Barron, etc). It was Alphonse Mouzon, more than anyone else (except maybe Billy Cobham), who made jazz fusion popular and even though experimenting with a lot of different styles and genres, always stayed true to his art. R.I.P.