Nearly 30 years and several pounds ago, drummer Alphonse Mouzon was the hottest, slickest, stylingest mack daddy on the early fusion scene. On the fashion tip, who could forget those floor-length fur coats, outrageous hats and audacious platform shoes that he sported with Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House in the mid-’70s. And few could deny the sheer power of his frenetic drumming, whether it was in the service of Roy Ayers (1970-1971), Weather Report (1971-1972), McCoy Tyner (1972) or The Eleventh House (1973-1975).
While both his slinky frame and super-fly fashion sense are now ancient history, Mouzon is still supplying plenty of signature sizzle behind the kit, as he so forcefully demonstrates on Live in Hollywood (Tenacious). A document of one smokin’ night with his working quintet at the now-defunct Baked Potato, it features strong ensemble playing and solo contributions from Sal Marquez on trumpet, Chuck Manning on tenor sax, David Goldblatt on acoustic piano and Dave Enos on acoustic bass. But through the indomitable force of his dynamic presence on the kit, Mouzon is the real star here.
Leading this acoustic jazz quintet is just one of the many hats that Mouzon wears these days as player, bandleader, producer and head of his own aptly named Tenacious Records label. He also fronts an all-star smooth-jazz group comprised of Eric Marienthal on sax, Dan Siegel on keyboards, Spencer Bean on guitar and Andrew Ford on bass which recently headlined the first annual Hollywood Park Casino Smooth Jazz Festival. Says Mouzon, “That’s what I’m known for around L.A., the smooth jazz. But you won’t hear any smooth jazz played on this Live in Hollywood. That’s for sure.”
From his high-energy attack on the opener “The Baker’s Daughter” to his propulsive pulse on “Poobli,” from his swinging exuberance on “All That Jazz” and “Anticipation” to a remake of his old Eleventh House composition “The Funky Waltz,” Mouzon acquits himself with power, panache and aplomb on Live in Hollywood.
Mouzon also appears as a sideman on two recently reissued CDs that were both originally recorded in 1971 for Atlantic Records: the super funky Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, a kind of socio-political concept album by the singer-songwriter Eugene McDaniels (composer of the classic “Compared to What” from Les McCann’s Swiss Movement and “Feel Like Making Love” for Roberta Flack) and Les McCann’s highly adventurous Invitation to Openness, featuring Yusef Lateef, David Spinozza, Cornell Dupree and the two-drum tandem of Mouzon and Bernard Purdie.
Upcoming recordings on Mouzon’s Tenacious Records include Live in Bel Air, with his working quartet, and Angel Face, dedicated to his daughter Emma Alexandra and featuring guest appearances from pianists Cedar Walton and Kenny Barron, bassists Christian McBride and Bob Hurst, trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Wallace Roney, saxophonists Michael Brecker, Ernie Watts, Don Menza and Antoine Roney. The latter recording also features the multifaceted Mouzon playing trumpet and piano as well as drums. On the smooth-jazz side of things is an upcoming all-star project entitled Smooth Silk featuring guitarists Larry Coryell, Chuck Loeb, Jeff Golub, Paul Jackson Jr., Jeff Richman and Julian Coryell along with saxophonists Warren Hill, Paul Taylor, Nelson Rangell and Richard Elliot. On the two studio recordings, Mouzon also plays keyboards, flute and trumpet as well as drums. “I play alto sax, too,” says the multi-instrumentalist, “but I’m much better on trumpet.”
Meanwhile, the prolific player-producer is readying the re-release of his early ’70s recordings on Blue Note—1973’s The Essence of Mystery, 1974’s Funky Snakefoot, 1975’s Mind Transplant and 1976’s The Man Incognito—all of which he plans to remix in surround sound (as soon as Capitol can locate the missing multitrack tapes).
“I don’t want to be stuck in one category—fusion,” says the 53-year-old drummer who also explored dance music in the ’80s with the commercially successful group Poussez. “I like all kinds of music. And whether I’m playing in a smooth-jazz, straightahead, fusion or R&B setting, I still play with intensity and energy.”
The evidence is clear on Live in Hollywood.