Review: Thundercat at Larimer, 11/19/13
THUNDERCAT at LARIMER LOUNGE | 11/19/13
Standing in the middle of a pulsating crowd of people dancing their asses off last night at the Larimer Lounge, I noticed the scene was tastefully decorated with diverse pockets of older gentlemen, hippie chicks, approachable beardos and cool guys. Somehow, Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner and his band have managed to conquer the hearts and minds of hipsters as well as the jazz cognoscenti. How? Well, they started by conquering their feet.
Countless reviewers have gone on and on about the virtuosic skills of this six string bass player and for good reason. What was most notable last night at the Larimer was the sweaty, obedient throng of party people bouncing and bobbing to the band's every beat.
Since his highly acclaimed 2011 debut, Thundercat has been an odd wunderkind. A seriously popular jazz musician who's largest successes have been found outside of jazz. Most know the name Thundercat from his incredible contributions to Flying Lotus's last two albums. Conventional wisdom doesn't favor a '70s-era light jazz, fusion-inspired instrumentalist best known for guest turns on another largely unknown instrumentalists albums.
Just the same, Thundercat has simultaneous become an indie darling and jazz scene champion by doing a style jazz purists used to hate: fusion. This tactic has become the new blueprint for success in the jazz arena utilized by other successful acts like Robert Glasper and Gregory Porter. The lesson here is don't front on that fusion, and please don't spare the pop!
All the songs Thundercat and his bandmates (including his brother/Suicidal Tendencies bandmate Ronald Jr. or drums) chose to perform last night were all the sparkling pop turns from his two albums, shimmering nuggets of accessibility like "Daylight" and "Walkin'". It was like Stanley Clarke with the benefit of Kenny Loggins's hooks, or the Mahavishnu Orchestra with arrangements by Brubeck.
This after all was the promise that fusion jazz never really fulfilled in the '70s and '80s: To push jazz to new limits without leaving people behind. There's no way you're going to lose your audience if they are literally dancing to your beat. Back in the day, hardliners mistook the R&B and pop fusion vibes of George Duke and the like for blasphemy.
Then the widening rift between "real jazz" and "fusion" eventually sank into the gulf that is "smooth jazz." George Duke, who passed away earlier this year is largely known for his lesser, lighter fare of the last twenty years, rather than the complex and dense fusion jazz of his early years.