If you’ve been to a wedding in the past five years, either as a guest or a band member, there’s a good chance you’ve heard or played a handful of Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse hits. Producer Mark Ronson is the mastermind behind many of these now-standard-repertoire tunes such as “Valerie” and “Locked Out Of Heaven.” With a background in classic R&B and a keen ability to put together a sophisticated yet undeniably danceable track, he often enlists particularly groovy musicians, including our current bass player to know, Nick Movshon. An active session player from the mid-2000’s on, Movshon has performed with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and has been a frequent call for Ronson and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Featured on sessions with some of the greatest voices and producers in pop and R&B, he brings a retro feel with a fresh touch to the flourishing world of modern soul music.
So Who Is Nick Movshon?
Native to Manhattan, Movshon picked up the bass at a young age and quickly gravitated toward the grooves of classic soul and funk players. As a teenager, he formed the band The Mighty Imperials, performing around New York and tapping into the sound of The Meters. He joined the band Antibalas in 1998, worked on music for the Broadway show Fela!, and soon began working with producer Mark Ronson. During the late 2000’s, Movshon worked on many of Ronson’s records, including those he produced for Amy Winehouse (Rehab and Back in Black), Bruno Mars, and Rufus Wainwright.
In addition to working with Ronson, Movshon continued to do sessions with a wide variety of artists including Michael Buble, Aloe Blacc, and Foreigner. His work as a bass player and composer with producer Thomas Brenneck and the instrumental group Menahan Street Band brought out the classic soul and R&B vibes with full force, making Movshon an easy choice to back up the acclaimed soul singer Charles Bradley. Another fortuitous player-producer relationship developed with Dan Auerbach, as Movshon was enlisted to work on records with Dr. John and Lana Del Rey. He continues to be an active session player, showing up on records that feature a new generation of players paying homage to the soulful session legends.
Let’s Talk Style
As an avid student and listener of classic soul, funk, and R&B, I delight in getting to listen to a player like Movshon. He is the perfect example of how someone can combine the simplicity of Duck Dunn and David Hood with the rhythmic complexity and daring nature of Tommy Cogbill and James Jamerson. Steeped in New Orleans funk and more sophisticated Afro-Cuban rhythms, he is a walking database of bass grooves that, when listened to closely, reveal equal parts influence and personal style.
His ability to recall both the tone and feel of classic records makes him an ideal session player, as his resume clearly shows. Often armed with a 1973 Gibson Ripper and a vintage Fender Precision, he is able to achieve a warm, retro-sounding tone that is further enhanced by his adaptable, mute-ready right hand. He digs in with conviction, clearly demonstrating the passion he has for music and serves as the ideal anchor for any groovy rhythm section. On the more modern sounding records, his attack is clean and articulate with the energy necessary to drive a hit pop song and send people to the dance floor.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Locked Out Of Heaven” (Bruno Mars: Unorthodox Jukebox)
One of the catchiest bass lines in modern pop music, Movshon executes the part with a clean and punchy articulation reminiscent of Sting and The Police. He pushes the pre-choruses with a driving pedal feel, accenting the groove with a flat seven-octave hammer on, and continues to pedal through the choruses to create contrast with the verse. As the song breaks down to a half-time groove in the final chorus, he sticks to the low notes and mimics the synth. This brings tension and contrast once again before resolving to the original bass line.
“Nobody But You” (Charles Bradley: Changes)
This track features Movshon harnessing the magical powers of classic soul and R&B bass players. Eloquently setting the stage for Bradley’s heartfelt vocals, he expertly places the groove of the verses by toggling back and forth between the three chord and the one. He is most likely positioned in the “box” from the 5th to 7th fret, giving him the ability to move easily between the B of the E string to the G on the 5th fret of the D string; this coincidentally places the rest of the G pentatonic scale notes under his fingers. He gracefully compliments the horn lines, providing the lower octave to the ascending scale-based tags of the chorus and filling in the gaps with simple fills.
“Eleggua” (Dr. John: Locked Down)
This record, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, is reminiscent of the swampy, early days of Dr. John’s solo career. He combines the voodoo-infused drum and bass grooves with chanting background vocals, flutes, and the distinctively modern-retro production style of R&B artists such as The Roots and John Legend. Built around “Meter-esque” minor grooves, Movshon moves with the rest of the band during the hooks in a distinctively George Porter Jr. manner. As the drummer switches to the ride cymbal to create contrast and brighten up the major tonality, Movshon compliments this action by jumping up the octave and allowing the high note to ring out.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Nick Movshon? Please share with us in the comments.