Thundercat gate-crashes Brixton’s Straight Pocket jam night

As published in Jazzwise 9 January 2020

Straight Pocket, the Monday jam session hosted at Pure Vinyl Records in Brixton, had a memorable first night of 2020. The house band, comprised of Straight Pocket founder Renato Paris on keys, Jonathan Moko on bass, and Andrew McLean on drums, warmed up the room with some cowbell-heavy, jazz funk as everyone settled into the space between the racks of soul, R&B, funk, African, and soca LPs pushed around the walls.

The room’s energy escalated upon the surprise arrival of Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner, the Grammy-award winning bass virtuoso whose genius permeates multiple genres. He shredded over some futuristic, Afro-beat influenced big ensemble riffs (ubiquitous in London’s contemporary jazz movement), backed by other scene regulars such as trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey (SEED Ensemble/KOKOROKO) and guitarist Luke Wynter of Nubiyan Twist and Golden Mean –  who’s new EP, Through Walls, will be launched at the Jazz Café on 11 January. Thundercat left soon afterwards, but the excitement of his cameo ignited the rest of the evening. Claudia Wilson, Pure Vinyl’s welcoming owner, was thrilled. “I can’t believe Thundercat just walked in and played in my shop!”

Thundercat (photo courtesy of Renato Paris)

The night continued with a varied handful of vocalists who spanned rap and jazz scat, plus two talented young drummers and a smattering of other capable musicians. Finding yourself suddenly accompanying Thundercat must have been enthralling, if not intimidating, but keyboardist Paris cultivated a convivial atmosphere, while the professional musicians in the mix encouraged their less experienced counterparts. Spectators danced and cracked beers they’d brought in themselves, and curious passers-by peering into the fogged-up windows were waved in by Wilson.

Straight Pocket is free, but it’s worth throwing some cash in the buckets that circulate a few times to support the artists making this local, collaborative improv initiative possible at an independent music store that continues to attract unexpected, often exceptional, guests.

Renato Paris on keys; Luke Wynter on bass; Andrew McLean on drums; Thundercat on bass (photo courtesy of Renato Paris)