All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

6

Snarky Puppy at the Ogden Theater

Geoff Anderson By

Sign in to view read count
Snarky Puppy
Ogden Theater
Denver, CO
May 24, 2016

The Snarky Puppy website describes the group as a "quasi-collective." Indeed, an organization that numbers perhaps as many as three dozen doesn't really fit the traditional definition of a "band." Thirty six members? That almost sounds like an orchestra. Well, they don't all play together at the same time. It's more like a rotating cast of characters (or musicians). Their latest album, Culcha Vulcha (Ground Up Music, 2016) lists 17 musicians. The specific composition of the band changes over time and seeing Snarky Puppy live can be a bit like buying a box of cereal for the prize inside: you don't know exactly what you might get. The flaw in that analogy, however, is that the Snarky Puppy quality is much, much higher.

For Tuesday night's show in Denver, the Puppies appeared with nine members: bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, violin, guitar, tenor sax/flute, trumpet and trumpet/keyboards. The quasi-collective seems to be held together by bassist/leader Michael League, who also served as emcee for the evening. One thing missing from this iteration that sometimes appears at a Snarky Puppy concert was a heavy Hammond B-3 presence. Another was dueling guitars. But no matter, the Puppies served up a multitude of musical morsels with the cast at hand.

Some Snarky Puppy recordings feature vocals, generally with guest artists, but Tuesday night's performance was strictly instrumental (with the exception of the opening set, but more on that later). Their pieces were highly arranged, which you would expect with that many players. Still, like any good jazz-oriented band, they left plenty of room for solos. Pretty much everybody got a chance to solo, so the ideas, concepts and styles were wide ranging and continually new and ever-changing throughout the evening.

Most of their tunes went through numerous changes (and I don't mean just chord changes) while running their course. They didn't follow a common jazz pattern of stating a head for a minute or so followed by a series of solos built on the initial chord changes. Often a tune would start with a unison horn line (with other instruments joining in like the violin and perhaps one of the keyboards or the guitar). After repeating the initial figure a few times, the song would morph into another riff, then another and another. Sometimes the solos were backed by just the rhythm players. Other times, the horns and other instruments would set up a groove for the soloist to dance around. Much of their sound was reminiscent of Frank Zappa, although Zappa's quirky little riffs, on average, tended to exceed the typical Snarky Puppy riff in velocity. Not that that's a bad thing at all. Perhaps it makes the Puppies somewhat more accessible and easier to listen to (depending on your perspective, of course).

Electronic effects were integral to the Snarky Puppy sound. It seemed that every band member had an elaborate pedal console at his feet. That included the horn players who sometimes played straight through to the PA but other times added significant fuzz, echo and other effects including at least one trumpet solo augmented by a wah-wah pedal.

Snarky Puppy seems to have hit a cultural sweet spot. Jazz is the single strongest color in their spectrum, but a funky, groovy undercurrent with a considerable jam-band influence follows closely behind. The result Tuesday night was a broad age range in the audience. Many 20 something jam-band fans were in attendance evidenced by plenty of Widespread Panic T-shirts. But there was also so much grey hair in the audience I started thinking that I should have asked for an AARP discount when I bought my ticket.

The opening act was Michelle Willis. Snarky Puppy leader, Michael League started a record label which is a salutary, entrepreneurial thing to do. Willis is one of the artists on the new label and she's been touring with the Puppies lately. Several member of Snarky Puppy joined Willis on stage to accompany her while she sang and played keyboards. Willis falls into the singer-songwriter category and her songs Tuesday night examined interpersonal relationships in minute and intricate detail. The songs were nice enough and executed with a high degree of competence and skill. The problem was the audience was there to get its groove on with the Puppies. The Ogden is a stand-up joint and therefore, the venue programs bands that are best enjoyed while standing or, more accurately, dancing or at least moving to the beat. Looking down on the crowd from the balcony during Willis' set was like looking at a guy on a date waiting for his girlfriend to stop talking so he could get down to business with her.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Georg Breinschmid at Hong Kong City Hall Live Reviews
Georg Breinschmid at Hong Kong City Hall
by Rob Garratt
Published: August 20, 2018
Read Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2018: The Community Series at Koncertkirken Live Reviews
Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2018: The Community Series at...
by Henning Bolte
Published: August 19, 2018
Read Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2 Live Reviews
Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2
by James Fleming
Published: August 18, 2018
Read Alan Broadbent Trio at the Deer Head Inn Live Reviews
Alan Broadbent Trio at the Deer Head Inn
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 15, 2018
Read Flow Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Flow Festival 2018
by Anthony Shaw
Published: August 14, 2018
Read Shipp / Lowe / Baker / Ray at Le Poisson Rouge Live Reviews
Shipp / Lowe / Baker / Ray at Le Poisson Rouge
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 13, 2018
Read "Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Levitt Pavilion" Live Reviews Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Levitt Pavilion
by Geoff Anderson
Published: September 1, 2017
Read "Broken Shadows at Icehouse" Live Reviews Broken Shadows at Icehouse
by Samuel Stroup
Published: June 21, 2018
Read "Charlie Parr At Higher Ground" Live Reviews Charlie Parr At Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: August 4, 2018
Read "Edgefest 2017: Give the Drummers Some, Part 1-2" Live Reviews Edgefest 2017: Give the Drummers Some, Part 1-2
by Troy Dostert
Published: October 30, 2017
Read "Istanbul Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Istanbul Jazz Festival 2018
by Luke Seabright
Published: July 12, 2018