Beware of Dog: A Review of Snarky Puppy at Anderson Center

by Ray Foosh from The Evening Review at 11:29 PM on 3·18·2014

Grammy Award-winning band, Snarky Puppy, played Anderson Center last Thursday, filling Osterhout Theater with 2 sets of truly explorative, utterly funky jazz fusion. Not only was the group incredibly tight, the entire show, from the opening song, Kite, to the encore, Quarter Master, consisted of one musical feat after another. The evening was full of creative chord progressions, rhythms, and transitions intertwined with intricate improvisation, achieved through heavy communication within the band through gestures, nods, and eye contact, all the while smiling, laughing, and dancing. This graced the music with a great level of complexity and texture. This may have been overbearing for some, but overall, it seemed well received by the crowd, which responded to each song with loud applause and to several with standing ovations.

Kite, from the new album, We Like it Here, started the show off slow and textured, featuring Mike “Maz” Maher on flugelhorn and trumpet and Chris Bullock on tenor sax. The band built tension throughout the night leading up to Sleeper at the end of the second set, which featured Shaun Martin on a Moog, soaring above the group with his vocoder. Justin Stanton, who spent most of the show on a Rhodes, switched to trumpet at times, giving the group a bold, strong sound. The two guitarists, Mark Lettieri and Bob Lanzetti, greatly added to the build of tension; although they mainly focused on rhythm and texture, when they took lead, they were incendiary.

The set list contained many different genres with the Latin feeling Tio Macaco, the Middle Eastern-esque Shofukan, and Quarter Master with its Dixieland allusions. This juxtaposition of genres was present within the songs themselves; 34 Klezma somehow managed to mix Klezmer with a Latin drive. Nevertheless, each song still had a funky groove at its core largely driven by Martin, and Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Seawright who magically played together as one on percussion and drums, laying down dense, colorful rhythms. The show featured many tracks from We Like it Here, but the group still managed to play several songs from various periods of their nine album existence; more than once the crowd cheered as bassist and front man, Michael League, said they’d play an “old school” one.

The show felt fairly intimate in spite of the venue. Throughout the show, League talked to the audience more as if he were conversing with a friend than speaking in front of a full house. He briefly discussed the history behind various songs and the band itself, which he described as a union of “Angry White Jazz” from Denton, the group’s hometown in Texas, and the R&B scene of Dallas.

This intimacy added greatly to the show. The audience fed off the energy of the band and the band in turn fed off the audience, increasing the intensity of the room throughout the night. The crowd clapped syncopated rhythms, sang along with the band in harmonies, and even clapped in seven. There was a unique spread of ages in the audience. People who may have grown up listening to groups like Miles Davis, Return to Forever, and Weather Report, sat among younger fans of the new jazz and funk scenes that have been developing in the past few years with groups like Lettuce and Soulive. It’s a testament to Snarky Puppy and their music, that they managed to draw such a diverse audience and still received the charged, positive response that they did.

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