Snarky Puppy

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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), 6/10
Culcha Vulcha (2016), 5.5/10
Immigrance (2019), 7/10

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 (2005). 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 (Sitmom, 2006): 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 (Sitmom, 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 (Sitmom, 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 (Ropeadope, 2010), 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 (GroundUP, 2012), Amkeni (Ropeadope, 2013) was a collaboration with Burundian singer-songwriter Bukuru Celestin, and Family Dinner - Volume 1 (Ropeadope, 2013) and Family Dinner - Volume 2 (GroundUP, 2016) were live albums with lots of guests, mostly devoted to covers.

We Like It Here (Ropeadope, 2014) 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 mournful world-jazz of Shofukan to Outlier, whose ominous suspense flows into a Tower Of Power-esque horn fanfare, via the catchy Funkadelic-esque What About Me?, culminating in the rich horn melodies and the intense organ solo (Cory Henry's satori) of the ten-minute Lingus, one of the band's artistic peaks.

Laurance began his solo career with Flint (2014), followed by Swift (2015), Aftersun (2016), Cables (2019), and several live albums.

Sylva (Impulse!, 2015) was a collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest that resulted in a six-movement suite, one of the most eclectic and varied League compositions.

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 (GroundUP, 2019), with the same 19-member band, incorporates more elements of world-music, notably in the energetic Moroccan-tinged nine-minute Xavi, while remaining loyal to their trademark sound in the funky eight-minute Chonks.

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