Thundercat – It Is What It Is (4 stars)

Thundercat – It Is What It Is

Follow-up to 2017's Drunk is a reflective merging of formal complexity and outlandish funkadelia

At its worst, jazz fusion revels in vulgar onanism and mannered slickness. But at its best it's a genre of dazzling ambition and freewheeling experimentation. That spirit of adventure has rubbed off on Thundercat and his close collaborator Flying Lotus, who gleefully join the dots between jazz fusion, funk, hip hop and bass music.

Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, came to the attention of many music fans through his virtuosic bass eruptions on Kamasi Washington's spiritual jazz opus The Epic. His own music is full of liquid runs and low end squelch, but it's primarily characterised by his sweet voice and airy melodies. That's why the appearance of yacht rock superstars Kenny Loggins and Michael MacDonald on 2017's Drunk made perfect sense: that combination of musical sophistication and lyrical honesty is what he aspires to. It Is What It Is retains the goofy humour of its predecessor, with cameos from comedian Zach Fox and a slow jam about a 'Dragonball Durag', but it's more reflective. On 'Fair Chance', Thundercat addresses the death of his friend, the rapper Mac Miller. A wistful R&B number with cameos from Ty Dollar $ign and Lil B, the song is a moving exploration of grief.

Elsewhere, Thundercat deftly combines velvety smoothness with formal complexity and outlandish funkadelia. The lonesome cosmic drift of 'Lost In Space/Great Scott' finds Thundercat at his most vulnerable, as strange jazz harmonies float under his vocal melody. 'I Love Louis' places galloping 8/8 drums under a bright Scritti Politti-like melody and hazy organ, while 'Interstellar Love' features Kamasi Washington blowing lush tenor sax over rapidly mutating breakbeats. Pick of the bunch is 'Black Qualls', co-written with Steve Arrington of funk legends Slave. Over a piquant chicken-strut groove, the pair trade verses with The Internet's Steve Lacy and Childish Gambino to outrageously funky effect.

Out Fri 3 Apr on Brainfeeder.

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