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
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
(with creative guitar solo and percussive patterns) and to the swinging
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,
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,
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
Outlier, whose ominous suspense flows into a Tower Of Power-esque horn fanfare,
via the frenzied Funkadelic-esque What About Me? and the
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
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.