Snarky Puppy


(Copyright 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
The Only Constant (2006), 6.5/10
The World Is Getting Smaller (2007), 6/10
Bring Us the Bright (2008), 5/10
Tell Your Friends (2010), 6.5/10
We Like It Here (2014), 6.5/10
Sylva (2015), 7/10
Culcha Vulcha (2016), 5.5/10
Immigrance (2019), 5/10
Empire Central (2022), 6.5/10
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Snarky Puppy, originally founded in 2003 in Dallas by bassist and composer Michael League around the University of North Texas' jazz program, but later relocated to New York, was a big-band project that harked back to the fusion-jazz of the 1970s. They debuted with Live At Uncommon Ground (september 2004). A line-up with League, British-born keyboardist Bill Laurance, saxophonists Brian Donohoe and Clay Pritchard, trumpeter Jay Jennings, trombonist Sara Jacovino, guitarists Bob Lanzetti and Chris McQueen drummer Ross Pederson and percussionist Nate Werth recorded the five elegant pieces of The Only Constant (2005): the sleepy bluesy noir-film inspired Hot and Bothered, the lightly syncopated dance of the ten-minute Open Forum, Oblongata, that morphs from romantic ballad to muscular jazz-rock, with a melodic peak in the dreamy theme of Revisited and a peak of smooth, liquid jamming in Precipice.

The World Is Getting Smaller (january 2007) added Kait Dunton on synthesizer and League shifted to more upbeat material, from the Caribbean-tinged fanfare Native Sons to the lively and evocative Intelligent Design (with creative guitar solo and percussive patterns) and to the swinging Briar.

Bring Us the Bright (april 2008), adding Mark Lettieri on third guitar, pianist Justin Stanton, two keyboardists (Bernard Wright and Bobby Sparks), violin and viola, focused on danceable beats, for example Bring Us the Bright and Strawman (with a clownish synth solo).

Tell Your Friends (november 2009), featuring only two keyboardists (Laurence and Stanton), Mike Maher on second trumpet, no trombone, and Shaun Martin replacing Dunton on synth, displayed maturity both in composition and performance. The propulsive and even hard-rocking nine-minute Flood, and especially the gritty and limping Slow Demon, that flows into an anthemic organ-driven aria, were classy demonstrations of subtlety and interplay; while the witty Whitecap and the carnival-esque Ready Wednesday linked back to the playful mood of the previous album, but with superior big-band musicianship and more interesting variations.

After the live groundUP (december 2011), Amkeni (february 2013) was a collaboration with Burundian singer-songwriter Bukuru Celestin, and Family Dinner - Volume 1 (march 2013) and Family Dinner - Volume 2 (february 2015) were live albums with lots of guests, mostly devoted to covers.

We Like It Here (october 2013) improved the rhythmic element (virtuoso drummer Larnell Lewis and percussionists Nate Werth, Steven Brezet and Julio Pimental) to complement the triple Lanzetti-McQueen-Lettieri guitar attack, while adding Cory Henry's organ to Stanton's piano, Laurance's keyboards and Shaun Martin's synth. Chris Bullock's and Bob Reynolds' saxophones duet with Jennings' and Maher's trumpets, and a string trio adds classical counterpoint here and there. This would remain their classic line-up. The result is dense and viscous, from the ethnic fanfare of Shofukan to Outlier, whose ominous suspense flows into a Tower Of Power-esque horn fanfare, via the frenzied Funkadelic-esque What About Me? and the Caribbean-tinged Jambone, culminating in the rich horn melodies and the intense organ solo (Cory Henry's satori) of the ten-minute Lingus

Laurance began his solo career with the self-produced The Good Intent (december 2008), followed by Flint (2014), Swift (august 2014), Aftersun (september 2015), Cables (2019), and several live albums.

Sylva (april 2014) was a collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest that resulted in a six-movement suite, one of the most eclectic and varied League compositions. If the first two songs are rather trivial, the album takes off in earnest with the swinging and rocking Atchafalaya. The 15-minute The Curtain begins as a philosophical meditation before the brass instruments intone a sarcastic counterpoint over a clownish rhythm. A brief piano interlude is interrupted by a soaring collective melody but then the piano regains control and the music becomes plaintive and almost agonizing. After the brief bombastic anguish of Gretel, the 14-minute The Clearing is another complex suite. It begins again relatively quiet, as a romantic adagio, but then indulges in Caribbean and funky syncopation, which makes it a more danceable piece, the hedonistic counterpart to The Curtain.

Impeccable performances highlight Culcha Vulcha (GroundUP, 2016), but the compositions tend towards more facile and mellifluous styles, like the Latin dance Semente and the bombastic funk of the nine-minute Jefe. League concocts musical creatures that are both amusing and elaborate, and the best balance between the two is perhaps Grown Folks. But, for example, large parts of the nine-minute Big Ugly are predictable, including the final synth-driven apotheosis.

Immigrance (march 2019), with the same 19-member band, boasts another colorful incursion into world-music, the energetic Moroccan-tinged nine-minute shuffle Xavi, but their trademark funk-jazz fanfares are a lot less creative. The eight-minute opener Chonks is almost somnolent.

The double-disc Empire Central (march 2022), a live-in-the-studio album, fares better than the previous two albums. Their Caribbean funk-jazz is tinged with a noir atmosphere in Keep It on Your Mind and Broken Arrow. This balances the exuberance of Bet and Coney Bear (a vibrant pan-ethnic numbers). If the melodic and nocturnal lounge muzak of single Belmont feels trivial, the eight-minute cinematic fantasia Trinity is an evolving organism, Honiara is an excellent example of their articulate counterpoint. Instrumental creativity hijacks Take It and RL's with brilliant simplicity. They are a tight band and hardly a second sounds out of place. The problem with an album of this duration is not so much the filler but that it starts sounding repetitive after the 10th song or so. There's nothing wrong with the last songs other than they come at the end, when their rhythms and solos feel recycled.

(Copyright 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
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