REVIEW: Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse (2014, EFG London Jazz Festival)

Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse Nov 2014
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved

Snarky Puppy
(Roundhouse, 18th November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Snarky Puppy turned in an explosive near two-hour set that will have unquestionably satisfied the three thousand die-hard fans packed in to the Roundhouse for the band’s second London concert in two days, having slipped in to Ronnie’s for a late gig the night before.

Magda Giannikou’s Magda Banda, supplemented by members of Snarky Puppy, set up the evening with a dynamic performance. The Greek-born singer, based in New York, who first collaborated with the band on Family Dinner – Vol 1, is a great communicator. She made the perfect connection with Snarky Puppy’s partisan audience, who hung on every note of her tightly arranged songs, including Amour T’es Là from the aforementioned album, towing samba-tinged percussion, brass and Steely Dan-glossed chord changes alongside her power-packed vocals; and the audience needed no persuading to hum along en masse when she directed, a ritual that is also part and parcel of the main act.

Enter Snarky Puppy, all guns blazing, to a rapturous welcome. Formed over ten years ago in Texas, now based in New York, bassist Michael League’s collective project delivers a super-crisp, finely honed brand of jazz fusion, which takes its cues from antecedents such as Brass Construction, Weather Report, Donald Byrd, even Tower of Power, and has a devoted London following who cheered virtually every note and beat – and it is not difficult to see why. Their broader approach not only to music, but also to education and community reach-out and to the business of music sets a great example, too.

Powered from raised platforms back of stage by supercharged, master funk-rock drummer Larnell Lewis, and percussionists Nate Werth and Marcelo Woloski, and by League’s booming bass, the brass section of Mike Mather, Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock, stage left, the keyboards of Bill Laurance and Justin Stanton and guitarist Chris McQueen, wove their way through songs from three of their eight albums to date, Ground UP, Tell Your Friends and We Like It Here.

Mather’s solo flugelhorn made the first impression in Blinky, the opener, setting the precedent for a series of sharp sax and trumpet mini-solos from the note-perfect brass. Jangling guitar and complex keyboard patterns blended with mute trumpet to build up the texture on Kite, “the closest thing we have to a ballad,” as League said. Yet, a Godspeed rumble was not outside their remit, either, and McQueen’s choppy, raw guitar solo cast a complementary hue on the hefty, synchronised wall of sound at a point about half-way through when we had perceptible lift-off into another gear, and individuals really came into their own with the whole thing loosening up and the sound opening out.

Each of the band added colour with their own personal touches to fill out the canvas. Bullock’s flighty flute added a different shade on Tio Macaco before the three percussionists were left alone on stage to whip up an extraordinary rhythmic spell all of their own. Bill Laurance’s beautifully crafted piano solo gave way to a chunky, latin roller-coaster of a groove that had the brass gliding over the rhythms with effortless ease. To encore they invited Muswell Hill’s very own major young talent, Jacob Collier  – “he’s ten years younger than me!” declared League – to join them to add funked-up melodica to the mix on Quarter Master, as boogie brass collided with a rattling New Orleans stomp before they eased out on the heavyweight Shofukan.

Snarky Puppy’s is a mighty sound and in full flow they can punch holes through the big band, r’n’b and jazz fusion genres. Yet, in such a strong position they can afford to take more risks. Maybe that will be part of their way forward!

Categories: miscellaneous

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