Magic man

Pub date July 15, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


A young musician’s sojourn after a successful debut album is often a grueling lesson about the fickleness of fans. But U.K. producer, DJ, and multiinstrumentalist Bonobo — also called by his more earthly moniker Simon Green — has transcended expectations and narrow definitions since his first full-length LP Animal Magic (Tru Thoughts, 2001). Once lauded by critics and listeners as the sanguine monkey king of downtempo "chill," Green has refined and filled out his inspired sonic vision long after the dissolution of that nebulous genre.

"There’s definitely a jazz sensibility [to Bonobo’s music]," Green tells me on the phone from Montreal, at the dawn of a North American tour. "Jazz is the main ingredient and then it swings off into different genres." But Green quickly qualifies his statement, pointing out that his music feeds hungrily on electronic narratives and a hip-hop aesthetic for mixing samples and loops. Dial ‘M’ For Monkey (Ninja Tunes, 2003) highlights just this talent for arranging sample cuts and live instrumentation into textured narratives. Composed of languid keyboard loops, horn blares, spacey flute riffs, and programmed atmospherics, the sensually percussive sound travels like moonlit waves. Green forged stronger and more intricate compositions in his most recent release, Days To Come (Ninja Tunes, 2006). This record sees Green’s younger somnambulant drive mature into the insightful introspection and passion conveyed by human rhythms and voices. A collaboration with the incredible vocalist Bajka emboldens Bonobo’s paradoxical balance between ephemeral and earthly wavelengths.

Today, Green is still following the elusive muses into realms of experimentation. He just finished producing an acoustic folk project for songstress Andreya Triana (of Fly Lo’s alluring "Tea Leaf Dancers"). "I think you can get bogged down with one way of working," Green says. "I like the idea of trying something else away from making my own music, because it expands [my] boundaries." For Triana’s upcoming debut Lost Where I Belong (Ninja Tunes), Green abandoned sampling for tabula rasa song production. The lo-fi, sparse arrangements emphasize the fullness of Triana’s effusive voice.

Green came out of the bottom-up recording experience rejuvenated and ready to write stories into tracks. He says his next effort will strive for cinematic orchestration. "I want to make sure it’s a progression from the last one," he says. "One tune has three different tempos and hugely different arrangements as it progresses." But adventurous strands of jazz continue to shift within Bonobo’s music. He’s still writing tales of love and isolation. We listen, navigating infinite horizons, and yes, more days to come.


With Andreya Triana

Sat/18, 9 p.m., $25


119 Utah St, SF

(415) 626-7001