It has been well documented that “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the unimpeachable sophomore album from Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, has put a spotlight on the handful of talented jazz musicians who helped craft it — people such as saxophonists Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin, and bassist Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat.
Thundercat wasn’t exactly toiling in obscurity before his brand of jazz, cosmic funk and soul fusion helped Lamar’s heady rhymes soar. He put in time with metal band Suicidal Tendencies and has two incredible albums under his belt: 2011’s “Golden Age of Apocalypse” and 2013’s “Apocalypse.” He has also worked as a session musician for the likes of Erykah Badu and toured with Snoop Dogg.
On Friday, Thundercat performed at Northeast’s Hecht Warehouse as part of CapitalBop‘s DC Jazz Loft Series at the DC Jazz Fest. And there was an impressive number of people willing to crowd into a sweltering top-floor warehouse space with no indoor restrooms to see him do his thing.
After an opening set from the Samuel Prather Groove Orchestra, an excellent D.C.-based music collective, Thundercat emerged. His white shirt and green pants seemed pretty simple attire for someone who typically rocks wild outfits — a varsity jacket with a headdress, or a baseball cap and pointy, superhero shoulder pads, for example.
Still, Thundercat, along with Dennis Hamm on keys, and Justin Brown on drums, managed to keep things blissfully weird without the costumery. “Tron Song,” an ode to Thundercat’s pet cat, lost none of its unsettling, haunting elements when performed in a cavernous space. And the instrumental free-fall on “Lotus and the Jondy” sounded just as wonderfully disjointed live as it does on “Apocalypse.”
During a sprawling, melded version of “Is It Love/For Love I Come” from “The Golden Age of Apocalypse,” Bruner started casually plucking out the bass line from “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” from “To Pimp a Butterfly.” “You know this?” he asked, as members of the crowd whooped out their loudest reactions of the night.
He brought them back into his solo orbit with the astral masterpiece “Daylight,” the elastic unreleased track “Them Changes” and his strongest dance track, “O Sheit It’s X!,” a soul/funk-leaning piece about a never-ending New Year’s Eve bash that proved just as effective as a party closer as it is as a party starter.
Godfrey is a freelance writer.