Enter the MoWo! – Mocean Worker
Hyena Records 9319
Let's not beat around the bush. Mocean Worker's Enter the MoWo! is a groundbreaking album and one of the most brilliant new works of art to grace this writer’s ears in a long time. For the first time in history, an electronica project oozes with soul and substance. This is no mere artful collection of well-mixed samples. Rather, live musicians blend with dead legends, and beats are interwoven with such smoothness that it’s often difficult to discern what was recorded live and what was sampled. Moreover, a distinct voice of quirkiness runs rampant through the endeavor, giving Enter the MoWo! a tremendously unique character. This is certainly a bold meal, and Mikey likes it.
Mocean Worker, aka. Adam Dorn, comes from a rich jazz pedigree. The son of legendary producer Joel Dorn, Adam began assisting producers from an early age. As he grew, he began to assume responsibility for compiling and producing several jazz and R&B re-issues. This experience parlayed its way into scoring a few feature films and documentaries, working with luminaries such as Wim Wenders, Bill Frisell, Bono, and Brian Eno. Oh yeah, and the guy found time to release three other electronica albums, as well.
Adam Dorn is a man with rich connections, and he is certainly not afraid to make the most of them. Guests on Enter the MoWo! include David "Fathead" Newman, Bill Frisell, Sex Mob’s Steve Bernstein, The Jazz Passengers’ Curtis Fowlkes, and many others. Instead of trotting these noteworthy musicians out like some sort of glamour parade, Dorn expertly utilizes each instrumentalist and vocalist, playing to their strengths in compositions that are tailor-made for each performer.
The songs are deep and passionate, exemplified by "Chick a Boom Boom Boom," which kicks the album off in fine style. A phat groove is laid down, and suddenly the listener is dropped into an old school 1960s jazz club, complete with the sampled audience ambiance. Super smooth piano jives perfectly with Newman's buttery sax lines that slink their way across the room. A couple of well-timed horn blasts help send James Bond on his way to his next romp in the sack, and a few tasteful turntable scratches and samples appear just to turn the whole composition on its head. Never before have old and new school jived so well.
A thick old-school groove certainly runs rampant through this disc, especially on a number like "Shamma Lamma Ding Dong." A heavy bassline drops in front of a chugging back beat, and the stage is set for a great flute battle. Old titan Rahsaan Roland Kirk is pitted squarely against young lion Frank Gauthier in a fascinating duel. Any Beastie Boys fan will surely recognize Kirk's signature looping riff, and Gauthier ups the ante with aggressive jabs in counterpoint. Orchestral samples add a little depth, and when combined with the heavy undercurrent of driving beats, flute solos have never sounded so badass.
One of the more interesting aspects of this album is the juxtaposition of soulful grooves and quirky layers of weirdness. As "Right Now" begins, the sparse, staccato bassline and mysterious keyboard figures evoke a darker emotion. Suddenly, the muted trumpet of Steve Bernstein announces a shift in attitude. With sharp and bouncy statements, Bernstein takes the song to a groovy and upbeat plane. A crisp funk beat underscores the change, but Dorn does a tremendous job of sampling and overlaying Bernstein's perky trumpet riffs to create an impromptu chamber group of bouncing horns. Blending smoothly with the solid bass and right-handed keyboard riff, the horns create a number that gushes with soul but is also positive and fun.
Clocking in at just over 49 minutes, Enter the MoWo! has a beautiful arc. Starting with infectious old school grooves, it moves into stranger but livelier territory before slowly resolving in an ethereal, atmospheric manner over the three closing tracks. Making use of silky smooth vocals from Nina Simone and Jane Monheit, the album gracefully glides to its conclusion before landing in a delicate wash of samples from a children’s choir. Dorn has taken the listener on a sonic journey, and tremendous care was exercised on the placement of each note. Every disparate source, solo, and sample fits so well that it’s nearly impossible to tell which instrumentalists are live, dead, or mere by-products of Dorn’s vivid imagination. Finely crafted albums like Enter the MoWo! have become a rarity in today’s world, but Adam Dorn’s impressive effort has resulted in a superb creation than transcends the limitations of an album. Enter the Mowo! is a true work of art and a damn fine one at that.