I first noticed the music of Mocean Worker when NPR’s All Things Considered used his tune “Tickle It” to introduce their feature “All Tech Considered.” It tickled my ear, so I bought the album it came from, Cinco de Mowo!. I’ve been Mowo-ing ever since. His blend of classic jazz and electronics struck a chord with this old swing queen. It wasn’t Neo-Swing. Mocean Worker, aka producer Adam Dorn, knows his music and can sample the hell out of it. In addition to his own considerable credentials (he’s worked with David Sanborn and Chaka Khan), his father is producer Joel Dorn, who worked with legends like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.
Last summer, I bought his 2015 release, titled simply Mocean Worker. It still has many samples from classic jazz recordings, and jazzy synths popping and thumping all around. But make no mistake: Mocean Worker is all about the bass. I’m talking oozing, funking, grooving bass. Thumb-slapping, note popping, foot-stomping bass. This is the bass I grew up with. This was the bass I heard my late brother Robert practice hours on end in our shared bedroom as he honed his craft back in the day. This album took me back, in a good way.
“Soul Swing,” the first track, lives up to its name. The pendulum starts swinging, but the funk hits hard. In a flash, it’s the mid-70s, I see brothers and sisters with Afros reaching for the heavens, combs stuck in the back, boomboxes on their shoulders, and skates on their feet. And they be getting down as the music warps and twists, at times sounding as if it came from under the sea or from on high.
The party continues on the next track, “I Told You Twice the First Time.” It has a air of mystery, like we’ve entered a tunnel leading to a dark grotto, the denizens getting down among stalactites and stalagmites.
Mowo the bassist leads off on “The Actual Funk.” Its stomping beat takes me back to Earth Wind & Fire, the bass licks smacking of the sort of thing Robert played at that time in his life. The swinging sax echoes in the background, but the bass owns this tune.
The mash-ups between the swing and the soul and funk really make this album for me. Makes sense. There exists a logical progression between swing and funk. Both are all about the dance. Cab Calloway made a disco-funk version of his theme “Minnie the Moocher” (still prefer the original) just as groups like Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band celebrated the Big Band era on tunes like “I’ll Play the Fool” or “Cherchez La Femme.”
Mr. Dorn’s talents take the music to the next level. It’s dance music first and foremost, but it also creates a landscape for the mind to wander. Small wonder I often play this album when I’m writing…
Sorry, “RubberBand” just came on. I can’t sit still with this tune. I have to get up and start clapping, every four beats, then every two, then every beat. Every time. It’s hypnotic. I’m similarly addicted to “Savoy Strut.” Love how that track starts in the 70s and takes me to the 80s, when I came of age listening to New Wave.
On “Ralph and Marcus” I hear the bass slapping again. And then on “PunkDisco (Jaco)” Mr. Dorn celebrates the spirit of Jaco Pastorius and his hard-driven style. The last track, “Colette Ma Belle Femme” make me think of Jaco as well, his tender side, a sweet lullaby to end a night of booty shaking.
On all the voyages I take listening to this album, Robert stays with me. I can’t hear a bass or see a bassist without thinking of my late brother. I like to think that he’s with me as I continue the voyages he started me on, as if he’s handing me off to the next generation, to see the tradition he participated in continue on.
With Mocean Worker, the tradition lives. The bass lives. The dance lives. Music lives. It’s all good.
© 2017, gar. All rights reserved.