Ben Williams Revive
Ben Williams Revive

Revive Video: Jazz Bassist Ben Williams Reimagines A Nirvana Classic

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

This week the music world celebrates the 24th anniversary of Nirvana's classic LP Nevermind--a record that finally made Kurt Cobain's scathing grunge take on the human condition impossible for pop culture to ignore. The album's best-known track, a barbed four chord youth anthem stretched over a clever dance beat called "Smells Like Teen Spirit," has become something of a jazz standard in recent years, with many artists (the most notable, perhaps, being Robert Glasper), using it as a tumultuous point of origin for bold new explorations.

Glasper's version is as funky as it is immersive, but there's still much more to discover within the original's four-chord world. In a new performance, featured on our sister jazz site Revive, upright bassist Ben Williams comes at the tune from a very refined place, weaving harmonies beneath melodies so tightly, it sounds as if his instrument's about to break. Can jazz bass be punk rock? You've got your answer right here.

“‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is a classic from my generation,” Williams attested while speaking to Revive earlier this year. “It’s such a great tune and it’s very nostalgic for a lot of us and it’s been covered a few times. So I was thinking about what I could do that hasn’t been done, so I played the bass by myself.” Now, Revive has premiered a new video documenting Williams performing the Nirvana classic, live and da solito for filmmaker Todd Star. His sharp bass fills find open spaces between melody lines that are so fleeting they seem impossible; but then, this is jazz, and even the conventions of punk rock need not apply.

Watch Ben Williams perform "Smells Like Teen Spirit" courtesy of Revive.