Drum and bass is a genre notable for its rhythmic innovation and an ever-changing cutting edge that seems to mutate with the week's latest twelve-inch single. It's also all too often marked by a startling lack of musicality. A typical drum and bass single usually starts off establishing the now-familiar hyper-driven drum loop over dub bass line patterns, and then proceeds to more or less stay right there for several minutes. Although the format isn't quite as stifling as trance's monotonous tension-and-release cycle, it can sound curiously abstract; it's almost as if Picasso had developed an innovative Cubist perspective and then spent the rest of his life drawing the same figures with no regard to their composition or purpose within a larger framework.
Which is what makes Mocean Worker's new disc, Mixed Emotional Features, all the more remarkable. Not only is it that rare drum and bass full-length that plays all the way through without ever begging for the skip button, its ten tracks are all composed with enough attention to form that they come off as purposeful musical journeys instead of someone's awkward sound collage. This shouldn't be a surprise, though: Worker is actually Adam Dorn, son of the veteran jazz producer Joel Dorn. He was exposed to his dad's friends, such as Yusef Lateef and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, at a young age and nowadays helps the elder Dorn run the superb jazz-reissue label 32 Jazz. Though jazz samples pop up on the album -- "Counts, Dukes & Strays" mixes a couple of acoustic bass loops (Jimmy Garrison perhaps? Charlie Haden?) with Count Basie's voice, and "Detonator" drops a mellow sax line over its high-octane percussion -- Mixed Emotional Features is far from a stab at jazz meets electronica. Instead Dorn's wider musical exposure and awareness pays off in a broader sense. The tracks on the album sound as though they're leading somewhere: the mutation of "Rene M" from an atmospheric opening into an ominous-sounding minor key, the ebb and flow of the trip-hoppy "Heaven @ 12:07," or "Motion Booty"'s journey from a sparse bass line to a dense web of West African-sounding percussion.
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Dorn-as-Worker's stamp is also all over Groove Jammy 2, a compilation of the funkier tracks from 32 Jazz's catalogue along the same lines as Blue Note's Blue Break Beats series. As a funky party platter, Groove Jammy 2 is perfect, everything from Grant Green's organ trio funk to Catalyst's vintage '70s grooves to Carlos Garnett's jazz-soul sounds like greasy back yard BBQ fodder. But Dorn does the competition one better by adding some postproduction (spacey interludes, the looped tag to Catalyst's "Ain't It the Truth" that ends the album) that makes the disc add up to more than just the sum of its parts. An unusual step for a normal label compilation, but for Dorn it seems simply par for the course.