Thundercat at the Bluebird Theater

Geoff Anderson By

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Bluebird Theater
Denver, CO
February 22, 2017

Thundercat brought the thunder. Bassist Stephen Bruner, also known as Thundercat, went low at the Bluebird Theater Wednesday night. We're talking bass that was deep and powerful enough to revive a heart attack victim. But Bruner and his band weren't simply about boisterous bass. There was much more.

Bruner brought his trio to Denver for a song-oriented two hour set. Playing a 6-string electric bass that looked like a hollow-body electric guitar, Bruner also spent considerable time at the microphone. He was joined by Dennis Hamm on keyboards and Justin Brown on the drums.

32-year-old Bruner hales from South L.A. and has been a member of that music scene for some time. He's spent time with Kamasi Washington and played on Washington's 2015 three CD set aptly entitled The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015). He was also instrumental in Kendrick Lamar's Grammy winner To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath, 2015). He's released several CDs under his own name, most recently Drunk (Brainfeeder, 2017), released on February 24. Wednesday night's set included some tunes from the new album as well as others from his prior releases.

Bruner has a clear tenor voice, but more often than not, he took it aloft to the falsetto range making for an almost delicate sound. The vocal quality was in significant contrast to the instrumental intensity. Brown seemed to play a perpetual drum solo; and a frenetic one at that. Actually, he did back off a bit on some of the slower tunes to take up residence as a time keeper, but on all the upbeat songs, he was just a constant blur, evoking some of the classic fusion drummers like Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon.

Hamm, on the keyboards, most often comped and often took over providing the low-end thunder when Bruner executed one of his frequent high-energy solos on the upper register of his bass. He did get numerous solo opportunities on his Rhodes electric piano and on synthesizer.

Being the leader, Bruner, of course took the most solos. With a six-string bass, he had plenty of options, including playing chords like a guitarist. Indeed, when he was in the upper register, his bass did sound like a guitar. Most often, however, he executed lightning single note runs, most of which were heavily synthesized, frequently sounding like Return to Forever-era Chick Corea. Watching the virtuosic bass playing brought to mind Victor Wooten in both ability and attitude. Overall, the band, especially in strictly instrumental mode, often sounded like 70s era fusion, Mahavishnu-style. When Bruner went to the microphone, he and the band brought a sound similar to some of the recent work of Robert Glasper and Stephon Harris' Urbanus band.

Thundercat got his name from his childhood superheroes of the same name. Back in the late 20th Century, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers struggled for affection from the same demographic. Given his affinity for the low end, Bruner's love of the Thundercats was the only rational decision.

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