Alphonse Mouzon has died. He was 68. He was one of my favourite drummers. I discovered his work in that new and exciting way – 25 years ago or so – on a compilation. I’d been gifted this CD proclaiming to showcase the Best Jazz Drummers. And it pretty much did. Put me onto a few new names – Idris Muhammad and Alphonse being the ones that really sat with me, as well as trotting out several old heroes, the Cozy Coles and Papa Joneses of that old world.
So taken with the Alphonse track I kept an eye out in the stores and then one day found Mind Transplant. What a brutal and beautiful record this is. One of my favourite fusion gems. I couldn’t dig all of the stuff from that genre/era but the very best was revelatory. I was just learning, too, that chops-galore didn’t necessarily make the best drummer but then Alphonse’s blistering speed and explosive way momentarily put paid to that. As quick and sharp as he was there was technique and natural talent. He was a jazzer – play a space-age speed-metal version of funk.
There were some other great players on his albums – like Tommy Bolin – and Mouzon went on to work with many legends (Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Beck, Santana).
I loved hearing the story – and it’s doing the rounds again now of course – that Alphonse was a huge influence on John Bonham; that Bonham was in fact nervous to meet him. It makes sense. Both had that hugeness – but a subtlety there underlying, underlining everything they played.
Alphonse Mouzon wasn’t a household name, perhaps a lot of music fans didn’t even know much of him or about him but he was one of the greats. A hero. And I often think about the worlds that opened up to me by taking in his type of playing – the boldness, the colour, the dexterity, the energy. Such a force. It’s sad to think of that huge force being snubbed out. He was one of my all-time favourites.