Thundercat (born 1984 in LA as Stephan Bruner) is an artist I’ve wanted to profile for quite some sometime now. He’s had a very diverse career as a bass/guitar player. He began in the thrash metal band Suicidal Tendencies. As well as working close to nu jazz mainstay Flying Lotus. On his own,he has brought his talents to a diverse range of artists from Kamasi Washington,Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar. He began his solo career in 2011. While it maintains his diversity of sound to a degree,his focus has tended to be on the modern nu jazz/funk approach in terms of his own material.
The only Thundercat solo album I have is 2013’s Apocalypse. Its mix of electronica and jazz/funk was a very moving one. Cannot honestly say I was too crazy about all of his lyrics. And that is the main reason I’ve avoided covering the music of this child prodigy up until this point. Just a personal preference that funky music be a very complete package. That being said,he is about to drop a new album called Drunk. And his first song released from this album was introduced to me both by friends Andrew Osterov and Henrique Hopkins. Its a duet with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins called “Show Me The Way”.
A processed Fender Rhodes piano,with Thundercat’s bass line tickling the chord changes next to his falsetto voice,opens the song before the drum-itself a three snare/two cymbal hit,comes in. During the choruses of the song,the Rhodes is phasered very heavily with a twinkling high pitched synthesizer. On the refrains,the arrangement calms down to a meditative soft jazz/funk/pop Rhodes and bass line. On two of these refrains,McDonald’s and Loggins’ vocal parts are introduced by Thundercat and light applause noise. The synthesizer/Rhodes duet improvises its way all the way to the songs fade.
“Show Me The Way” is an excellent tribute to the reality of the “soft rock” or “yacht rock” label often disguising strong jazzy funk/pop artists-that “funk/soul in every section of the record store”. Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald were prime examples of this ethic. Thundercat clearly understands how to compose such melodic and instrumentally intricate jazzy/pop/soul tunes with a strong funky groove as they did in their time. This mid tempo number features a lot of elaborate melodic improvisations-always very hummable. And is a superb comeback for all three artists involved for 2017!
For the past six months? Have been debating with myself as to how to reintroduce this blog. There were some personal matters involved. Yet I was continually discouraged by saturation news about one act of gun violence and other forms of terrorism right after another. And over and over people defending the right for this to keep happening-rather than striving to do something about it.
For over a decade since my own family started playing a vinyl to cassette dub of Kenny Loggins’ 1977 solo debut album Celebrate Me Home? There were a number of songs on it that made an impact me-especially with former partner in the famous singer/songwriter (itself a soul based sub genre of course) duo with John Messina creating such a soul/R&B oriented debut album with his strong lyrical and melodic sensibility. One of those songs has been ringing through my mind all month long. And it’s called “I Believe In Love”.
The song opens with the spirited,uptempo percussion of Sergio Mendes alumni Laudier de Oliveira and Steve Foreman. This is accompanied a melodically jazzy soprano recorder solo from Jon Clarke. Loggins ethereal falsetto rings in at this point over a short instrumental break to introduce the refrain-again sung in a whisper over Steve Gadd’s drums. Loggins drops into the lower end of his vocal range.
On the second chorus? Album producer Bob James kicks in for a spirited synthesizer accompaniment. This leads into the bridge of the song being lead by the lyrically narrative chorus-wherein Clarke’s recorder ,Lee Ritenour’s rhythm guitar and James’ synthesizer are both in strong harmony with Gadd’s drumming and Loggins spirited vocal inflections. At the conclusion of the song? There’s an alternately phrased variation of the chorus that concludes the song.
Instrumentally speaking,this song is absolutely phenomenal and happy spirited funky soul. It’s also from that mid/late 70’s period where this variation on of the genre was thriving and prevalent. And not only on the radio, but in private record collections from all sections of the record stores of the day just about. The participation of the most talented and prolific jazz/funk session players of the day of course really helped to give the song it’s driving,positive energy.
Considering contemporary fears,anxiety and often near inability of people to show affection to one another, as well as the tendency to feel blood lust in protecting the most violent and inhumane aspects of religion? Drawing on a late 70’s take on the 60’s era gospel/soul concepts of humanity such as the potential loss of soul runs very deep to me right now. Especially coming to the conclusion that believing in love as a broader concept is far healthier then people being guarded and “believin’ in gods that never knew them”. Perhaps it’s music such as this seemingly simple song that might hold the answers to major problems so many are refusing to deal with today.