What happens when a hip hop DJ gets bored of his day job? While if you’re Simon Green then, the rather unusual answer is to form an avant-jazz side project. Bonobo isn’t the easiest concept to get your head around. In a Wikipedia entry (most likely written by Green or some poor work experience girl at Ninja Tune) it states that Bonobo are ‘downtempo pioneers’ and purveyors of chilled, beat-driven music. Live at Koko sees Green step outside the cold isolation of his studio in an effort to bring his labour of love to life. To do this he has recruited a live band of crack session musicians, consisting of not only the usual guitar, bass, keys and drums but also a saxophonist, a three piece string section and on occasion an oboe.
This is certainly no small production, Green has clearly gone all out to bring his studio creations to life. Listening to his band play, it becomes clear that a lot of time and effort has been spent practising and it is impressive to hear them skip between a multitude of different genres, from lounge-jazz to skittering trip-hop to funk and leftfield pop, it sort of feels like Kid A for people who buy their albums at Tesco and Asda. This is not to say that Live at Koko is without merit; at its best on the instrumentals like ‘Nothing Owed’ Bonobo are able to conjure up something deeply cinematic and moving. However on other songs the music descends into the worst form of self indulgent lounge-jazz. The oboe solo in ‘Dismantling Frank’ may well be one of the most hideous things I’ve ever heard, if it didn’t instantly remind me of the jazz flute skit from Anchorman. The appearance of a bespoke jazz singer on several also adds to the terribly oppressive loung- jazz vibe, bringing to mind the awful ghost of Kosheen.
Overall Live at Koko offers a captivating and often enthralling portrait of exceptionally talented musicians recreating the complex and spindly music that Simon Green has clearly spent hours crafting in the studio. At its best it is beguiling and draws the listener perfectly into its vast musical landscapes. With this live incarnation of Bonobo Simon Green has achieved what many believe to be impossible, making dance music into a valid live proposition. However this is not to say that the music is without fault various excursions into bland lounge-jazz will alienate many, which is a shame because Bonobo have a fair bit to offer.