Despite his size and trademark ninja vest, strapped loosely over a lumberjack flannel, Thundercat cuts an unassuming figure. Touring as a trio with acclaimed jazz drummer Justin Brown and keyboardist Dennis Hamm, the cat otherwise known as Stephen Bruner donned his six-string bass and launched into Hard Times/Wolf and Cub.
Thundercat is something of an anomaly in the pop world; a freakishly talented and intuitive player whose largely instrumental jams see him pursue a jazz exploration of funk and pop. Along with contemporaries Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat is at the forefront of a movement pushing contemporary jazz, and by default funk and hip-hop, in a new direction.
In a live setting the ideas he presents on record are reduced to their base elements, with the trio using the song structures as templates within which to construct solos and to jam.
Guitar effects were used sparingly, he had a controller in front of him through which he would trigger a wah-wah or octave effect, and his voice was thickened without any audible reverb tail.
Dipping through selections from last year’s The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam and 2013’s Apocalypse, pauses were brief or non-existent and the few times when the man did attempt to speak he seemed awkwardly short of banter.
The inclusion of Complexion, one of the many collaborations that had Thundercat’s fingerprints all over them on Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, was an unexpected pleasure. After seemingly using his wah pedal to imitate the rhythm of the rap vocal of the verse, the bassist took the time to praise his friend as a genius, along with a sly dig at Kanye, “TLOP, what’s that?! Don’t even.”
Thundercat’s playing was nothing short of mesmerising, the way his fingers moved across his fretboard like droplets of rain, fused with a solid sense of groove and timing. It was a seemingly effortless performance from the thirty-one year old bassist, as he occasionally smiled and pulled faces at the audience, his precision never wavering.
Lotus and the Jondy was used as a soloing showcase for Brown, and proved to be one of the highlights of the night. The drummer attacked the kit in a manic display of timing and passion, moving in and around the beat as his bandmates remained locked into a groove, revealing why he is one of the most in demand artists in jazz.
Them Changes, one of Thundercat’s best songs was also a set highlight, while party anthem Oh Sheit It’s X revealed itself to be little more than a very catchy chorus, not that that really mattered.
Returning for an initially solo encore of Without You was a nice variation, before the band joined in and took the evening home.
It was a masterclass with one of the innovators of the funky stuff.
Written for Beat Magazine