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Bob Lanzetti: Snarky Guitars, Part 2

Mike Jacobs By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

For the second installment in our series on the guitarists of Snarky Puppy, we spoke with Bob Lanzetti. In addition to being the guitarist who logged the most miles with the band in its early days, he has also appeared on every recording SP has ever released. In 2017, Lanzetti independently released his debut solo album Whose Feet Are These That Are Walking? He is also a member of the band Bokanté and leads his own quartet. Lanzetti spoke with All About Jazz from his home in Brooklyn in December of 2019.

All About Jazz: So what's been on your agenda lately?

Bob Lanzetti: I just finished a tour with my own band about a month ago and it was cool, really fun. I recorded a couple of the shows so I think I might actually put out a live record eventually. I'm also working on a project recording a number of the Two-Part Inventions by Bach. I just did a session [for it] with a band—two guitarists, bass and drums -it's kind of crazy. The rest of them will just be duos with other guitar players.

AAJ: Do you know who yet?

BL: Brad Williams is one. He's a great guitarist who plays with [drummer] Nate Smith often, as well as Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. We went to college together and have been friends for years. He's doing one. Jordan Peters— who has done some stuff with Bokanté— he's doing one so it should be fun. But yeah, that's what I'm working on at the moment.

AAJ: You came in pretty much on the ground floor with Snarky Puppy. Do you want to talk a little about the arc of the band from then until now, from your perspective?

BL: Sure. Me and Mike [Michael League] and a lot of the guys have known each other since the University of North Texas and have played together in a bunch of different groups—in school and out of school. At a certain point, Mike said he wanted to make a record with a nonet. Just because he said nonet, I had Birth of the Cool, the Miles record, in my head. He came up with the name Snarky Puppy and everything, but it seemed to me like we were just making a Mike League solo record. It was kind of funny, we made that record [The Only Constant (Sitmom Records, 2006)] and I moved to New York immediately after that. Then a year later he called and said he wanted to make another one and I was like, "Oh shit, really?" (laughs) It was kind of surprising. Then the band started touring and at a certain point we realized that this was going to be a real thing we would be doing. Before we knew it—well actually not, it took a long time—we were starting to gain momentum. Then a lot of us started playing in Dallas with people like Robert Searight and Shaun Martin and gradually, some of those guys started joining the group. They really changed everything so much because they were coming from a completely different world. That really helped. Once that happened, I felt that we started to get the sound that really defines the band.

AAJ: Did you play on this most recent (2019) tour?

BL: Yeah. It was a long tour so Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri and I pretty much split it up evenly. I did Australia and Asia in the Spring and a bunch of the U.S. dates and then Europe in July. It was a good run for all of us, I think.

AAJ: The venues the band plays seem to be getting nicer and the audience appears to be growing. I saw that one gig on this tour was the Royal Albert Hall...

BL: Yeah. I unfortunately wasn't on that. I saw that one [on the schedule] and was like, "Oh my god, this is a good one." (laughs) I think Mark was on that one. But yeah, the crowds have been great and the whole thing is as good or better than ever. Even since the old, tough days, it seems to have always been moving in the right direction. That's probably why we all kept on doing it.

AAJ: You've appeared on every Snarky Puppy record. Are there stand out moments in the catalog for you—as a player or collectively as a band?

BL: I think one of the best musical experiences of my life was making Family Dinner Vol 2 (GroundUp, 2016) because of playing with people like Charlie Hunter, Susanna Baca and David Crosby of course. All of the guests on that record were just so great and so many of them were heroes of mine. That was pretty special just having them all in the same room—just looking around, I was like, "Oh my god..."—and then the music was so much fun to make.

AAJ: Wasn't that whole Family Dinner concept was something the band started doing at the Rockwood Music Hall in Brooklyn, shortly after making the move to New York?

BL: Well I had been here [New York] for a while and then Mike League moved here Then shortly after we started doing that. We would have a Rockwood residency with two or three guests on each gig. We would just play two or three songs with each of them and that would be the gig. So that's when the [Family Dinner] idea started and eventually Mike had the idea of making an album [that way]. That was a lot of fun.

I guess the other album that I really liked was Culcha Vulcha (GroundUp, 2016). It was the first time we had been in the studio like that in years. By that point we had all recorded with so many other bands and had so much more individual experience, it was really exciting to make a record like that again.

AAJ: You have some writing credits for tunes scattered throughout the Snarky Puppy repertoire. What happens when you submit a tune to to the band? What's the process?

BL: Basically, if you write a song that you think will work with the band, you send the demo to Mike and see what his feeling is about it. Nine times out of ten, we'll at least try it. The songs are pretty much completed when the composer brings them in and then as a band we will arrange things. We'll move the melody around to different instruments to see which works best, stuff like that. And a lot of times, the tunes won't even come up until we're at the recording session. Mike will send out an email saying, "Tomorrow, we are going to work on these three songs." Everyone will go home and shed the parts as best they can. Then the next day we start rehearsing them, figuring them out piece by piece. It might take two or three hours to record the song, depending on how hard it is. From there we'll start building overdubs. So basically you write a tune, send it to Mike and we're probably going to try it at least.

AAJ: There were many compositions on your solo debut, Whose Feet Are These That Are Walking? (self-produced, 2017), that were surprising in that they showed influences that didn't necessarily surface in your work with Snarky Puppy up to that point—specifically Americana and roots-rock leanings. Were you holding a lot in your pocket so to speak?

BL: Sort of. I mean, at a certain point I had really gotten into great songwriters and producers and some of my favorite things were Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. I just got into really great American songs. And or course, I've always been into classic rock as well. I started writing tunes with those influences but I just thought those were tunes that just didn't make sense with Snarky. I just had them laying around until I had enough of them where I thought it was probably a good time to make a solo record. So it has its own kind of vibe that's really different from Snarky.

I haven't really sat down and tried to write something for Snarky specifically. If it happens that I'm writing something that might work, then I'll send it in and see what happens.

AAJ: It's interesting that you, Mark Lettieri and Chris McQueen are such different players. How would you characterize the others' styles? What do you see in their playing that you like?

BL: I love both of those guys, They are two of my favorite players around. Yeah, we are all really different, which I think is partially a testament to Mike too. I think he's really great at finding the right guys that are similar enough, yet different enough to not get in the way but also add something to the music. Mark, to me, is super funky and he has this rock thing with the funk thing that is just undeniably awesome. I love playing with him. Then Chris, he does a lot of interesting things with sound, he's a great improviser and great accompanist. He's also a very thoughtful kind of player. Playing with both of those guys makes me better so that's obviously a good thing. It is kind of funny that you can have three guitar players playing the same songs and all sound totally different. It's a treat.

AAJ: In looking through and listening back to many things in the band's catalog, one of the stand-out moments for you is the solo spot in the tune "What About Me." While much of your playing can be markedly eloquent and terse, you also have this kind of daredevil side, as in the song I mentioned, where you are obviously hanging it all out there, letting the chips fall where they may. Would you like to speak to that dichotomy in your playing or that solo specifically?

BL: The solo section in that song is really wide open because it's just drums and guitar. You can go anywhere you want harmonically. I'm into a lot of free music—like Bill Frisell's stuff but even Derek Bailey and Ornette Coleman. That probably found its way into that [solo] a little bit. But there have been nights where I play funky-type stuff, bluesy stuff, lots of effected stuff, more linear type stuff... it really can go anywhere which is what makes it fun. It's also great to hear other players and instruments solo there too. I've heard Mark and Chris both solo in that section... [violinist] Zach Brock, [Keyboardist] Justin Stanton... It's great to hear all the different approaches.

AAJ: That's another interesting thing about Snarky Puppy. Each time you perform, not only might you have different players in the band but also different levels of instrumentation in sections of the band. You might have two guitarists and one keyboard player or one guitarist and three keyboard players, extra horns or a violin. It's always different so the solos and melody lines get handed out differently all the time. It's an interesting dynamic.

BL: Yeah, that keeps it fun and keeps you on your toes too. The melodies getting switched around is partially due to whoever else happens to be on stage. If we're missing a horn player, then maybe the guitar will pick up the melody to make it a little more present -just to make sure that the most important parts shine through on any given section. I have to admit, once in a while, Mike has said to play the melody and I didn't know it. (laughs) You feel like a failure but then it's like, "Alright, I guess I have to work on this song a little bit." It's good at the end of the day though because it keeps everyone alert and on their toes. You can't really get too comfortable because you never know what's coming.

We never really do two guitars much anymore but if we do, it's probably because we're down to one keyboard for some reason.

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