Alphonse Mouzon

Virtue

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Megadrummer and percussionist Alphonse Mouzon recorded Virtue, his lone date for Germany's MPS, in 1976, and the label issued it in 1977. As far as fusion records go, these were not particularly good years, but Virtue is an example of the very best of what electric jazz had to offer at the time. Mouzon was half of a pair of drummers who defined the fusion era -- the other was Billy Cobham. Beginning with his tenure in the Eleventh House with guitarist Larry Coryell, and carrying it over into his work with Weather Report and McCoy Tyner, Jaco Pastorius, and Albert Mangelsdorff, to name a few, Mouzon is, in his way, one of those defining drummers; a musician who carried his own musical vision into both electric and acoustic jazz and was too mercurial to be pinned down by either, though he is perhaps too often panned in by critics as strictly a fusion drummer. Wrong!

The band on Virtue is stellar. For starters, the great saxophonist Gary Bartz is in the house, as is former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Stu Goldberg (who also recorded solo for MPS, see Eye of the Beholder), and bassist/arranger Welton Gite, who has worked with everyone from the Jacksons to Willie Bobo, Billy Preston, Thelma Houston, and Ronnie and Hubert Laws. The set is comprised entirely of originals, beginning with the monster "Master Funk" that lays down the grooves without apology, but keeps both improvisation and spontaneity alive throughout. The basslines by Gite are viral, and Bartz's work on alto creates a sense of drama in the melody as Mouzon's breaks and Goldberg's keyboards lay down the clacking, bottom-heavy funk. "Baker's Daughter" is one of the most impressive electric jazz tracks of the '70s. Its taut structure introduced by the spaciousness of Goldberg and Bartz on soprano offers a languid melody that quickly gets built into an exploratory, knotty jam that, for all its instrumental acumen, never loses sight of the emotion and sense of flow in the melody. "Nyctophobia" is a Mouzon tune that was originally recorded with the Eleventh House, but the version here, even without Coryell's scorching guitar, is superior because of its clean, sharp tempo changes and seamless sense of movement. The many angles in the composition are glided over by the tautness of this rhythm section, with Bartz executing some very impressive solo playing, moving all over the driving, multi-tracked keyboards that act as another percussion instrument. The title track is the longest here; it carries within it the very spirit of John Coltrane's search and ascent. While Goldberg and Gite drop through one set of fusion clusters and funky maneuvers after another, Mouzon pushes the beat until it disappears into pure rhythm and Bartz solos with a fantastic, modal sense of harmonic invention. Produced by the great Joachim Ernst Berendt, Virtue is, despite being almost totally unknown in the United States, one of the great albums of electric jazz and perhaps Mouzon's finest and most inspired moment as a leader. The set has been available in Japan in the past, but SPV and MPS Germany have found a way to issue great sounding Japanese mastered CDs for a very reasonable price and get them distributed in America.

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