In June, four years and a world away from its youthful origins at North Carolina Central University, the Durham-based five-piece Zoocrü released Lucid, its first recorded work. The record is a complex, masterful reimagining of black American music, drawing liberally from multiple jazz styles, R&B, and hip-hop, with further-flung influences that include Radiohead. Throughout the record, the chordal shadings are subtle, the music travels in unexpected directions, and the execution is flawless. It features smooth, fusion-jazz-flavored instrumental songs, while tracks featuring spoken-word and rap elements add a vital urgency. One interlude, titled "Redneck," is a disturbing yet riveting piece that's guaranteed to elicit a visceral reaction from listeners. On the Pour House stage Saturday, in support of the similarly exploratory-minded Hot at Nights, Zoocrü will re-create its ambitious, accomplished debut. Bassist Christian Sharp, one of the group's cofounders, discussed Lucid and some of its core elements.
I think of old and new. I think of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, those guys who were there playing with Dizzy [Gillespie]. And then there were those guys like Miles [Davis]. Miles pretty much transcends everything. We pull from the old stuff to the new hip-hop-era stuff and try to grab from different places in American music, black American music—from Dixieland to what it is now, what you want to hear on the radio. We want to make people feel good and dance too. We used to dance to jazz.
My first time noticing bass was Fred Hammond. He's one of the renowned gospel artists, and he's actually a bass player and a singer. A lot of his music is bass and drums and maybe guitar, and it's the most in-the-pocket groove you can ever think. And I think I was talking to my dad when I was hearing it. I was like, "Dad, I wanna play that." He's like, "What, guitar?" I'm like, "Naaah. That low note. Those low notes that's slappin' and stuff." I had to be eight when I noticed it. I don't know why I noticed bass, but I noticed that instrument. So many bass players run through my mind. Oteil Burbridge, James Jamerson, Nate Wood. We've got so many styles, from upright to electric. It's crazy how far electric bass has come. That instrument itself is not that old. People are still finding out things you can do with an electric bass.
I think it's the most important thing: understanding the history of music, understanding technical aspects of instruments, or your instrument in particular. It's a constant thing. It's like being a doctor: I'm practicing. Same thing with a musician. I'm practicing my instrument. I'm never gonna be the best. If you're a musician, you strive to be the best that you can be.
Somebody, I don't know who in the group, brought it. Most of us in the group are pretty active on what's going on in the community, and it just caught us all off guard. This caucasian man talking about he drinks beer and likes pork and he gets to be a racist, and now he's seen the light on everything that's going on. It's great that he's a white male talking about this. Being African-American, that's who we think would be saying the opposite. Even African-Americans don't talk like he's talking. We went back and forth—should we put this on our record? We just made a decision to go with it. We played the recording at a few of our shows for about two minutes. The people would get a little shaky and a little uncomfortable. I listen to the record and I'll still be taken aback, because it's truth, and it makes you uncomfortable. It makes everybody uncomfortable.
This place is growing. I got here in 2010. I went to N.C. Central and, that point until now, Durham and Raleigh have changed so much. It's really a great time to be here right now. There's so many doors opening, so many more spaces that you can freely express your contribution to the world. North Carolina's been getting a bad rep these days, but from the inside, it's a pretty good place to be yourself.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Lucid Dreaming"