So… Snarky Puppy. Ever heard of them? Well, up until a few months ago, neither had I, and boy was I mad at myself for letting this awesome musical ensemble slip silently past me for over a decade. Yes a decade! Snarky Puppy formed in 2004, led by Grammy Award winning Bass Player, Composer and Producer, Michael League. With musical assistance from a an incredible band of interchangeable musicians known as the ‘The Fam,’ Snarky Puppy have firmly established themselves within the ‘muso’ stratosphere, up there with the likes of Steely Dan for producing incredibly complex song arrangements within an acceptable context for non ‘muso’ lovers. Throughout Snarky Puppy’s career, critics and fans alike have described them as contemporary advocates of the 1970s fusion era. This description is completely justified by their musical abilities and composition attributes often representative of Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea at their musical pinnacles.
However, the genre, fusion, throughout the past, has been commonly associated with over the top arrangements formed around complex key signatures, further complicated by random time signatures. Song arrangements often consist of twenty-minute tracks with single instrumental solos taking up the majority of the recorded time. For many, this is musical heaven. In fact, tracks by Weather Report such as ‘Birdland’ and ‘Black Market’ are a tribute to the incredibly abilities found throughout the progressive era Jazz scene, and the idiosyncrasies found within the rock, pop and latin music genres throughout the 1960s. For some though, the self-indulgence that sometime exists within fusion music is nothing short of musical hell.
Snarky Puppy have a plethora of musical attributes that are both pleasing to the ‘muso’ type and the general listener. They combine the best of fusion, underpinned with a consideration for current musical trends. Their style amalgamates the complexities and intricacies found within the contemporary jazz field, think of artists such as the Cinematic Orchestra, Sub Motion Orchestra, Gregory Porter and even to a point Bonobo; however, with the inclusion of gospel, electronica, soul and funk, they manifest within a genre of their own. This is not by coincidence though. As stated previously, Michael League is a multi award winner for his bass playing, producing and composition skills, therefore, it is of no shock to enlighten the reader that the other members of Snarky Puppy are equally as reputable. The reason for this interchangeable musical unit is dependent on who is available at the time the group decides to embark on a record. The quality of Snarky Puppy’s musicians often means that they are frequented with touring duties with the likes of Erykah Badu, Marcus Miller, Justin Timberlake, Kirk Franklin, Ari Hoenig, Roy Hargrove, Snoop Dogg to name but a few. Nonetheless, whenever Snarky Puppy decides to record, the sheer quality of players cited on the album credits is close to musical perfection, especially within a time where the musical abilities of the individual is often surpassed my marketing assets and pigeonholing associated with more mainstream artists and musicians.
I could go on, but, I thoroughly recommend that you have a listen. There are multitudes of videos online, and their albums are available as streaming format for immediate indulgence. Both the ‘We Like It Here’ and the ‘Family Dinner’ sessions are awesome and coincidentally the live recordings were released with the same titles, I would recommend these both as starting points.
Words by Tom Kitchen.