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Thundercat’s ‘non-judgmental’ ‘Drunk’ an observation of culture

Thundercat | Eddie Alcazar Photo

Growing up in ’80s/’90s Los Angeles amid a family of jazz-steeped percussionists, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner might seem to have been genetically hard-wired to wield drumsticks as well. But photos of Thundercat (while still a kitten) instead show him clutching toy guitars and other stringed instruments, and at age “four or five” he picked up a bass.

Thundercat

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25

Where: Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Tickets: Sold out

Info: www.concordmusichall.com

“At one point I played violin too, but bass was always the focus – I needed something rhythmic,” explained the now 32-year old multi-genre artist, phoning from the road in mid-February at the outset of his current tour. Thundercat headlines Concord Music Hall Feb. 25, which doubles as the release date for his new album, “Drunk.” It’s Thundercat’s third full-length solo project for Brainfeeder Records, the imprint steered by intrepid DJ/producer/instrumentalist Flying Lotus.

An audacious 23-track conceptual project, “Drunk” showcases not only Thundercat’s celebrated bass-wrangling prowess – he is frequently compared to the late virtuoso Jaco Pastorius – but his songwriting and vocal chops as well. And the album’s impressive roster of featured performers (Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Wiz Khalifa, Kamasi Washington and, of course, longtime colleague Lotus) is a testament to the level of respect Thundercat commands among his peers. One of his more noteworthy guest spots has been with Lamar, whose critically-lauded 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” netted co-producer/instrumentalist Thundercat a Grammy Award (for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration on album track “These Walls”).

His career trajectory has been fascinatingly eclectic, beginning with punk/thrash metal, and continuing with lengthy forays into jazz and jazz fusion, alternative R&B, neo-soul and hip-hop. As AllMusic.com expressed it, “Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner spent the last part of the new millennium’s first decade becoming the go-to bassist for practically every artist in black vanguard music,” hailing his “nimble, syncopated, groove-heavy basslines.”

Thundercat | Eddie Alcazar Photo
Thundercat | Eddie Alcazar Photo

“He’s brilliant,” stated avant-garde rapper and periodic musical partner Open Mike Eagle, “absolutely brilliant.”

Starting in high school, the bass-playing Bruner had joined his drummer brother Ronald Bruner Jr. in L.A.’s durable thrash outfit Suicidal Tendencies, ultimately spending over a decade in the group.

“I learned a lot from Mike Muir,” Thundercat reflected, referring to Suicidal Tendencies’ charismatic co-founder and leader. “In a very interesting way, he kinda brought me up, and I try to hold on to the things that he taught me about showmanship and what it meant to be a front-man. Not to be afraid of the audience, of what could come next – just stand out in front, take a solo, and mean it.

“Honestly,” he added, “I still consider myself a member of the band.”

Thundercat (whose ingenious stage name is a tribute to the much-loved,’80s-spawned animated TV series “ThunderCats,” about feline-humanoid superheroes on another planet) views his stylistic multifariousness as all of a piece.

For those unfamiliar with the bassist’s extensive body of work – and all-inclusive tastes – odds are that the most eyebrow-raising guest album credits on “Drunk” belong to veteran soft-rock colossi Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. But Thundercat’s been an unabashed admirer of both these mellow gents’ songwriting for quite some time, considering them role models in that regard; McDonald and Loggins supply blue-eyed-soulful vocals on album track “Show You the Way.”

“I grew up in a very open house,” Thundercat pointed out, “where everybody liked a lot of different things, not just jazz and jazz fusion. I would get these insatiable hungers to hear more and more, and I’d go on these music hunts.” Already an avowed fan of McDonald’s work with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, Thundercat tracked down, for instance, the sample at the heart of foundational West Coast rapper Warren G’s ’94 smash “Regulate”: McDonald’s own 1982 hit “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).”

The superbassist describes his lushly soul-drenched, straight-talk-titled, nonjudgmental new album as “a bit of an ode to the ups and downs of drinking. The storyline of being drunk is something that a lot of my friends experience, and in addition it’s something that’s interweaved in the culture. ‘Drunk’ is just me observing and reporting my connection with it, you know?”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.