"Excellent f*ing music" -Andre 3000 (Outkast)
"Incredible writing. Killin'." -Ari Hoenig (Joshua Redman, Kenny Werner)
"Incredible" -Marc Johnson (Bill Evans Trio, Michel Camilo)
"Killin.'" -Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck)
"Serious passion." -Johnny Vidacovich (Astral Project, Joe Sample)
"Scary." -Tony Hall (Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio)
"Great musicality, great fun, great minds." -Grammy winner Al Petteway
"Simply put.... Amazing! Great fresh instrumental music at the highest levels." -Chazz Frichtel (Michael McDonald)
RECENT PERFORMING CREDITS
Herbie Hancock's Headhunters
Rebirth Brass Band
Stanton Moore Trio
Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk
Jacob Fred Jazz Orchestra
Papa Grows Funk
John Ellis & Doublewide
Ari Hoenig & Punk Bop
*2008 Dallas Observer Music Awards Winner (Best Jazz Act)*
*2009 Dallas Observer Music Awards Winner (Best Jazz Act)*
An animal as innovative and engaging as its 3 generations of legendary musicians, Ropeadope Digital recording artist Snarky Puppy has one of the freshest sounds in the world of instrumental music today. It is a gathering place for the best that Dallas has to offer, from the unparalleled genius of keyboardist Bernard Wright (Miles Davis, Chaka Khan) to the raw groove and vibrant spirit of Grammy Award-winning drummer/keyboardist Robert “Sput” Searight (Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg) to the hunger and passion of its young founders. This convergence of different cultures, races, ages, and musical backgrounds has birthed a sound that is setting trends and defying boundaries worldwide.
It is a delicate mixture of real American music, from jazz to funk to R&B to rock, and seasoned heavily with the sounds of Brazil, Puerto Rico, Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans. While exotic, virtuosic, and laden with musical depth, the success of Snarky Puppy can be largely attributed to the group’s ability to “go in multiple directions while remaining imminently listenable” (Dallas Observer), and ultimately, danceable. Reaching an audience is something that these players have loads of experience with, having played with major league artists such as Sting, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Roberta Flack, Morcheeba, Erykah Badu, and countless more. The music is completely uncompromised, unorthodox, and unmistakably unique.
At the forefront of the band are two living legends from different generations. The veteran of the group is keyboardist Bernard Wright, one of the most influential people in the history of American music. After 30 years of touring and recording with folks like Miles Davis, Marcus Miller, The Wynans, Roberta Flack, Roy Hargrove, Gladys Knight, Bernard brings his unequalled maturity, taste, FUNK, and versatility to Snarky Puppy. On the same route though a few generations behind him is the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Robert “Sput” Searight of groups as eclectic as Kirk Franklin, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, and Celine Dion. Sput brings an undeniably contagious energy to the music, whether behind the drums or keyboards. Frequent augmentations of the group include Puerto Rican percussionists Jose Aponte and Jorge Ginorio as well as new funk legend Bobby Sparks (Lalah Hathaway, Marcus Miller) on organ.
But the girth of the band is one more generation back, and in sharp cultural contrast with the aforementioned players. It is a group of mid-twenties, college-educated jazz musicians from the highly esteemed University of North Texas. This is where the concept of the group was birthed and is maintained, even throughout a drastic musical evolution that has gone on for 4 years. The young bassist/composer/bandleader Michael League (Myron Butler & Levi, Keite Young, Dave Brubeck, Walter Hawkins) has engineered Snarky Puppy to be a band constantly pushing forward, yet always accepting of what its individual players bring to the table.
Snarky Puppy has shared stages in the U.S. and Canada throughout the last two years with Victor Wooten, Rudder, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Stanton Moore's Trio, and Ari Hoenig among others, proving that its appeal has very few genral boundaries. Its three records and DVD have received acclaim from musicians and critics alike, winning over such artists as Andre 3000 (Outkast), Johnny Vidacovich (John Scofield), and Marcus Miller (Miles Davis).
The group will be touring internationally throughout 2009 supporting its ground-breaking third record, “Bring Us the Bright”, and culminating in late fall with the recording of a new live album (their first for Ropeadope Digital).
As for defining the band’s sound, League says, “In a crazy, twisted way, we play dance music. It’s also art music. I suppose it’s just music.”
Additional info can be found at www.snarkypuppy.com and www.sitmom.com.
We are a big, happy family. At any given time, we'll have around 8 of these dudes on stage.
SHAUN MARTIN: keyboards
JUSTIN STANTON: keys and trumpet
BILL LAURANCE: keys
MIKE MAHER: trumpet
CHRIS BULLOCK: tenor sax
BRIAN DONOHOE: tenor sax
MICHAEL LEAGUE: bass
BOB LANZETTI: guitar
MARK LETTIERI: guitar
ROBERT "SPUT" SEARIGHT: drums
NATE WERTH: percussion
CD/DVD 2010 Tell Your Friends (Ropeadope Digital)
CD 2008 Bring Us the Bright (sitmom records)
CD 2007 The World Is Getting Smaller (sitmom records)
DVD 2007 Real to Reel (soulful productions/sitmom)
CD 2006 The Only Constant (sitmom records)
Snarky Puppy, Victor Wooten dazzle audience
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A look of happy bewilderment crossed the face of many an audience member at the Granada Theatre Mond...A look of happy bewilderment crossed the face of many an audience member at the Granada Theatre Monday night.
Their amazement, however, was not limited to the jaw-dropping, face-melting virtuosity of the famed bass player Victor Wooten and his similarly talented band members. The telltale buzz of excited and sated music lovers could be heard in the large, dark venue long before the headliners had even been glimpsed.
That is because Snarky Puppy, a band of NT music students, opened the show with a one-hour set of genre crossing jazz-funk that inspired unexpected joy for those new to the group and renewed zeal for veterans.
"I liked it because it wasn't too cerebral," said Linny Nance, a Dallas keyboardist. "They were just having fun."
Snarky Puppy's songs do not have the smooth flow and transition of most instrumental compositions.
They jab and maneuver with the carefully measured evasions of a boxer whose complete energy boils always just beneath the surface until the moment when a sudden harmony of movement delivers a knockout punch.
Ripe with kinetic, tight-fisted horn lines and complex structures, the music is balanced with the loveable and carefree qualities of a jam band.
This is especially evident in a danceable Latin jazz number featuring trumpeter Jay Jennings in which the band proceeds to execute its own version of reggaeton - a mix of reggae and hip-hop.
Snarky Puppy's bass player and leader Mike League is a humble fellow with an amiable smile and a large afro. His passivity, however, disappears with the first note.
League provoked soloists to greater heights with yells, reveling in his art with facial contortions and abrupt spasms of movement, directing his band members with subtle and minimalist bass playing in stark contrast to the dazzling technique of Wooten.
It is indeed a compliment to Snarky Puppy that the power and originality of its performance was not dimmed by the thunderous and awe-inspiring flights of Victor Wooten. The almost three hours of Parliament-style funk - including three encores - was riddled with peaks and valleys increasingly far apart as the show neared its unforgettable climax.
Almost every musician in Wooten's six-piece band, which includes two more Wootens on guitar and keys, played unaccompanied at some point.
Each of them capable of sounding like a one-man ensemble, these interludes of inconceivable technique and singular musicianship were not the tiresome episodes of self-promotion one might suspect.
Instead, they ranged from the epic and dense to the tasteful and even lyrical. But by far the most interesting solo performance was Wooten's dramatic renouncement of bass playing at the request of a contrite inner muse to pursue music.
"Victor, one day you have got to stop playing the bass, and start playing music," Wooten said.
Without recognizing any contradiction from the audience, he plunged into a moving and fresh "Amazing Grace" before the band returned to the stage for an improvised funk in alternating time replete with more solos by Wooten.
When the show ended at about midnight, the retreating crowds walked with a slow gait and spoke in loose, hushed voices.
A few others stood alone in the Granada Theatre long after most had left, staring at the stage with the hope that the musicians might come back and play one more song.
"In a word, unbelievable," said Daniel Poole, a Dallas resident. "It's one of those things you experience, but have no way of describing."
"Bring Us the Bright" album review: Crossing Party Lines
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We all love to be wordly. Shuffle through your friends’ facebook pages, and you’ll no doubt find a s...We all love to be wordly. Shuffle through your friends’ facebook pages, and you’ll no doubt find a slew of open-minded comrades summarizing their musical preferences as “everything.” That is, everything by the Shins. Or, alternatively, Shostakovich.
I admit, it’s hard to cross musical party lines. After listening to a group or a song for a while, one becomes attuned to its particular message, its particular mode of expression. Lots of songs might sing about love, for instance, but each has a unique way of coloring it. We get accustomed to extracting emotion from music in a certain way, and, as with learning a language, we assign one genre primary status. Sure, I took Spanish in high school. No, I never try to watch Univisión.
So it’s a nice pleasure when we come upon music that crosses party lines for us. Billing itself as a jazz-funk-experimental group from Denton, Texas, Snarky Puppy bridges into reggae, ska, progressive, electronic, and even klezmer. On their webpage, the band says, “It’s like a party, but deep. It’s a deep party.” And it’s true. Their music is both thought-provoking and funky. When listening, you don’t have to sacrifice groove for emotional integrity. This is mind-expanding stuff, but without all the auditory pain associated with much of the avant-garde scene.
Their latest album, “Bring Us the Bright,” has no holes in it. The title track is a effervescent jaunt with an electro-Latin feel. Entrancing guitar work from Chris McQueen on the acoustic. While a largely instrumental group, the select use of vocal as a form of accompaniment gives the track a very relaxed flavor.
The second track, “Loose Screws,” is a solid chaser, and the perfect remedy for all the listeners who needed no more than one 4/4 track. Composed and arranged by drummer Robert “Sput” Searight, Screws is a highly syncopated. Oscillating between Latin (including a brief vocal solo — the only on the album with real words), funk, and electronica, the chart has Zornian genre-swapping without without any anarchic anti-transitions. Sure, you can’t count the rhythm, but you foot still wants to keep tapping. Includes a face-melting solos from saxophonist Chris Bullock and organist Bobby Sparks.
“Strawman” is more face-melting funk/electronica. In 5/4. ’Nuff said. Bass line may cause defibrillation.
Most interesting track on the set might be “34 Klezma.” As its name implies, the tune is strongly imitative of a klezmer bulgar. Guest string section captures an Old World feel while still imbuing the tune with a New World freshness. Intense development and release, moving between heart-rending minimalism and mind-bending harmonic richness and rhythmic intensity. It’s like Fiddler on the Roof, except the roof’s on fire.
“Strange Dream” is also pretty eponymous. Moog synth used heavily by Bobby Sparks on this one. Very floating feel — the loving, friendly side of psychedelia. Smooth, without being smooth jazz.
The sixth track, “Celebrity,” is without doubt the catchiest tune on the album, with a chilling compound rhythm on keys laid over a pounding bass line. The same riff (it will get stuck in your head) is passed throughout the band in the song, lending a unified, highly listenable quality to the piece. Perfect night-driving music.
“Making the Circle” is more syncopated intensity, with more start-stop action and heavy bass ostinato. Keeps you on you toes.
“And Soon We’ll Be One,” has the same drive as the rest of the album, but with just a bit more end-of-album finality.
So, for all the listeners out there who are tired of having to choose between thinking and partying, let there be Snarky Puppy. “Bring Us the Bright” is a solid effort on behalf of this relatively recent group, and let’s hope they continue to bring us more and more of their fresh sound.
by Sam Markson
"Bring Us the Bright" Album Review
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Being named Best Jazz Act at this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards was just another addition to S...Being named Best Jazz Act at this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards was just another addition to Snarky Puppy's already impressive résumé. Led by bassist/composer Michael League, this eclectic collective has successfully transcended the highbrow, elitist tag that dogs some jazz combos. And the act manages to do so without succumbing to the banalities of contemporary jazz of the Kenny G variety—an impressive feat.
Bring Us the Bright, the band's third effort, continues Snarky Puppy's fascinating merge of brains, brawn and bravado. While certainly capable of mind-blowing instrumentation, League and his extended posse (the group sometimes swells to 16 members) blend in just the right amount of funk, blues and rock into songs that pulse with a vitality that's damn near tactile.
On cuts such as "Strawman" and "Celebrity," the expansive lineup creates moods and themes that wouldn't be out of place on a mid-'70s set from Frank Zappa. Add in a healthy dose of Parliament Funkadelic-style dance grooves and Snarky Puppy boldly goes where (very) few jazz bands have gone before. This puppy has grown into one badass, funky dog.
by Darryl Smyers
Bringing It All Back Home
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Taking a break from the Dallas groove scene while on a 23-date tour, Centreville-born musician Micha...Taking a break from the Dallas groove scene while on a 23-date tour, Centreville-born musician Michael League brings his band, Snarky Puppy, home to play a concert, teach a high-school workshop and a visit his favorite local eatery. Gearing up for his homecoming performance, Saturday, Sept. 8 at Jammin’ Java, 227 W. Maple Ave., Vienna, League took some time to explain what he’s been up to since leaving the area.
What’s your background in music? While growing up in Clifton were you in any bands or school oriented music groups? My grandfather, mother, and brother were all professional musicians, so there were always different sounds filling my ears as kid. I decided to casually play the guitar in middle school and gradually became more and more enamored with the idea of playing music full-time. As a high-schooler in Clifton, I played with lots of my peers...mostly just improvising with them over material we had been learning in our private lessons or whatever was popular at the time. I ended up forming a band with my bass-playing friend Tony Moreno (whose band is headlining the Jammin' Java show, oddly enough) during my freshman year and we played as a group for almost 3 years, I think. We had a lot of fun and exposed each other to a lot of different music. I think that kind of close-knit garage band experience really shaped me as musician. I've sought that in every group I've played in since.
What was the first piece of Jazz music you heard that really sold you on the genre? How did it shape the way you hear/write music? My brother was a jazz drummer when he was in high school (I was in elementary school), so I heard jazz constantly. The genre really didn't have much of an effect on me, though the individual musicianship and skill element did. I had to enter the world of jazz through a couple of "gateway drugs"- like Steely Dan and Phish- that combined complex harmony and extended improvisation with a pop sensibility. After my ears became used to music like that, I heard a live record by the amazing pianist Oscar Peterson. It completely destroyed me. I got more and more interested in the genre and by my senior year of high school I was only listening to straight-ahead jazz. I think that experience of growing up with lots of soul/pop/rock and then binging on jazz for a year created this strange hybrid music in my head. That's what Snarky Puppy is to me- a combination of all the music I have become obsessed with over the last 10 years.
How was the transition from Centreville to Denton, Texas? The transition from Centreville to the University of North Texas in Denton was amazing and totally humbling. It knocked me on my butt. I went into the school thinking I was going to be instantly successful, and realized within the first 2 minutes of my placement audition that I had absolutely no perspective on where I was as a player. I think it was because I didn't get out enough to hear great live music in DC. It's so important as a developing musician to constantly watch professionals play. Years of lessons can't replace the experience of seeing an amazing, inspiring performance live. Observation, in this case, explains things that you could never learn from a private teacher or a music book. I would seriously encourage parents of young musicians to take them out as often as possible to hear music that inspires them. It's as valuable as paying for books and lessons.
As for UNT, I was (unexpectedly for me) near the bottom of my class on bass when I entered. I had only been playing the instrument for a year and didn't fully understand its role despite the fact that I had more advanced harmonic knowledge than most of my bass playing peers (from studying guitar). I was completely fundamentally decrepit on the instrument and had no idea until I saw 40 other kids my age really play well. It made me work as hard as I have ever worked for anything in my life. In fact, it may have been the first time I ever really practiced. The level of playing at UNT was so high that I really felt pressure to catch up and keep up.
How did Snarky Puppy form? And what was the inspiration for the name? Although I was a student of UNT's jazz studies program, my plan was always to start a project devoted to playing original music that wasn't necessarily jazz. I was able to hear all of the musicians at school play and then form a group with the folks that I knew would be perfect for what I was trying to do. We started really casually at first, just reading music I had written. We played two shows and the crowd response was so warm that we never really stopped.
UNT has a kind of funny sense of humor about the music that comes out of it... it's jokingly referred to as "angry white jazz" because of the racial demographic and slightly angsty sound of the big bands there. I used the name Snarky Puppy (which my brother came up with for a potential band of his) because it pokes a bit of fun at that "angry" musical stereotype, and because the majority of the band is from UNT. It just made sense to me.
How would you best classify the Snarky Puppy sound? The sound of the band is constantly changing, because it is a product of the music that we listen to. When we started, most of the guys listened largely to jazz and it was obvious from our approach to writing and playing. Now we're more involved in the Dallas groove scene (Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond) and that has changed the way we play. I also really dug into Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music over the last 2 years, and that's affected my writing. We call the music jazz/soul/world fusion. I don't know if that helps at all in describing the music, but it makes sense to me in my own head. The dilemma in identifying the music is that it is constantly evolving, and the genre changes completely from song to song. The challenge is to stay consistent in our overall approach to the music as a band in order to create a sense of unity through all of our stylistic excursions. Bands like the Beatles and Radiohead really are models for us in that they are instantly recognizable despite the fact the music is vastly different from record to record.
Is the music a product of jamming or do you compose each song? The music is specifically engineered to be half composition, half improvisation. I try to construct the tunes to be vehicles for improvisation while still being structured and organized enough in themselves to convey a message. I was always frustrated listening to bands improvise freely with no really structure or direction- unless the musicians were completely amazing, it became really boring for me. I wanted to take the freedom I felt from listening to Miles and combine it with the guaranteed emotional payoff of a Beatles song. We have a general map in the compositions, but I leave it up to the players to draw in their own back roads.
What are some of the major developments of Snarky Puppy over the past year? 2007 has been a wonderful year for us. Aside from this 23-show tour that we are on right now, we have had the opportunity to play with some amazing artists. In the spring, we opened up for the amazing bass virtuoso Victor Wooten (of Bela Fleck) in front of over 1,500 people. We also had a CD release party with Roy Hargrove's RH Factor (minus Roy), which has been a huge influence on us as a band. We were recently asked to record one of my songs on keyboard prodigy Bobby Sparks' (Marcus Miller, Lalah Hathaway) debut record with special guest drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Sting, Frank Zappa). That is going to be amazing, largely because Bobby's record is featuring some of the most respected musicians on the planet- Marcus Miller, Pino Palladino, Roy Hargrove, Questlove, etc. And finally, we have 3 shows in October with one of the best new bands around today, he 4-piece NYC outfit Rudder. They're incredible.
Where do you see the band in the next 5 years? Over the next five years, I see the band in a constant state of traveling and recording. The goal of the music has always been to reach a non-exclusive audience, and I can see that really starting to happen. It isn't just musicians in the crowd any more. I have always encouraged the members of the band to have their own projects and I hope that Snarky Puppy can help them launch their groups in a more direct and noticeable way. I want to continue playing clubs and doing more music festivals, from Bonneroo to North Sea Jazz. The music is birthed out of lots of contrasting individual styles, so I feel that each person's growth deepens the band's overall sound. I hope that all of the members have their own records out by then.
Tell us a little about the clinic and concert happening at Centreville High School? As I said earlier, the most important thing that I think young musicians can do is see music live. I am always trying to accommodate that, so I set up a concert at my old high school (Centreville High School) to try and inspire some young musicians in their own backyard. We also are giving a free clinic the day before on playing in an ensemble, composition, and just generally existing as creative musicians in a competitive economy. Most importantly, I want to hear what the students have to say. We'll be working with them in small, instrument-specific groups. I'm really excited about it. I hope it can inspire the kids in the same way I was inspired when my class had guest artists come into CVHS.
What are you most looking forward to during your stop in Northern Virginia? The thing I am looking forward to the most about coming back to NOVA is playing at Jammin' Java [Sept. 8]. I'm so excited about playing music for the people I grew up with... it's like a weird kind of catharsis for me. I think they'll understand the music even more than the folks here in Denton do- they really know where it's coming from.
And a close second- taking the band out to eat at Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant in Vienna. I have been craving that stuff for years.
Snarky Puppy Wags Its Way to the Farm
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The Jazz Studies Division of the University of North Texas has helped transform the town of Denton -...The Jazz Studies Division of the University of North Texas has helped transform the town of Denton - located about 30 miles north of Dallas - into a musical community not unlike Athens, which makes Snarky Puppy's Michael League excited about returning to the Classic City for a series of shows this weekend.
"We're so happy to spend two nights there," says League, the bassist, founder and manager of the nine-piece "new-jazz" ensemble. "It's so similar to our hometown; we really feel at home there.
"Because of the university's jazz program, we have a lot of players who might have wound up elsewhere coming here to create. Denton has this really great jazz/pop/neo-soul scene, which is the weird combination of sounds that birthed this band."
Snarky Puppy will perform Friday and Saturday at Farm 255 and also has a date to play in the WUGA (91.7-FM, 97.9-FM) studios as part of the weekly "It's Friday" radio show, an engagement that has League extremely pumped.
"We've done a little bit of that kind of promotion before, but for this tour, I really went after opportunities like that," says League, who founded Snarky Puppy - made up almost entirely of UNT Jazz Studies students and graduates - three years ago.
"In-studio live performance is something we've never done before. Even though we're an electric band, we'll play acoustic in the studio, so it will be pretty exciting to hear the songs in a different format. I can't wait to hear what pops out."
A native of Los Angeles who grew up in northern Virginia, League's interest in music came during his teen years, when he took up guitar.
He had originally planned to study jazz guitar at Indiana University, but budget cuts in the wake of 9/11 caused the program to be dropped.
So League, who began playing the bass as a senior in high school, elected to head to Denton.
"The guys in the rhythm section and I grew up playing in funk and rock bands in high school," says League. "And that may be the most important element of our music, which is having that sense of belonging and loyalty to a group of fellow artists."
With a full horn section, Snarky Puppy can delve into just about any musical style, but it's clear the favored genres focus on fusion, traditional jazz and percussive pieces with plenty of Latin and Afro-Cuban flair.
League says he was influenced by bassist Avishai Cohen and the band ModeReko (made up partially by former members of Bruce Hornbsby's band) to craft a big-band sensibility.
"The fusion of jazz harmony and improvisation, with a nice groove foundation, really influenced me to write," says League.
"I wanted the kind of texture and color you can only get with a big band, but I also wanted it as earthy as possible, with the grove in the pocket."
The band has recorded two albums, 2006's "The Only Constant" and "The World is Getting Smaller," which was released in May.
Snarky Puppy also appears on a new concert DVD with fellow Texans the Country Fried Soul Band.
As the band's principal songwriter, League says he tries to balance tightly-wrapped melodies with the soloing needs of a nine-piece group.
"In a way, our songs are very highly arranged," he says. "The framework of the song is laid out, but within that framework, there is a 100 percent ability to improvise - some songs lend the opportunity to literally solo forever. I compose songs to have a contour, and if everybody understands everybody else's role, there's a lot we can do. What we do is very arranged, but it's also very open."
As is the case with most jazz players throughout the country (and, perhaps, the world), the members of Snarky Puppy also have other regular performance jobs, and League is no different.
League often plays with Dallas native Keith Anderson, whose tenor saxophone stylings have graced albums and concerts by Kanye West, Marcus Miller, Al Jarreau and the late Cab Calloway, and League will take time away from Snarky Puppy to travel with Anderson to Serbia and Croatia in October.
And could there be a story about a band called Snarky Puppy without an explanation as to the thought process that went into the name?
Actually, there are a couple of stories:
"The University of North Texas has this inside joke about the style of jazz that comes out of the Jazz Studies program - it's called 'angry white jazz,'" quips League. "So I thought, coming out of school, that it would be funny to have a name that reflects the angst of that environment.
"And also, I have a brother who's a professional musician and when he was in high school he played in a band that he suggested sh ould be called 'Snarky Puppy.' The name wasn't chosen for the band, but I kept the name filed away, hoping one day I could use it."
SP/Mingo Fishtrap Show Review
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06/01/07 Granada Theater, Dallas, TX Snarky Puppy is a powerful 9-piece outfit hailing from Den...06/01/07
Granada Theater, Dallas, TX
Snarky Puppy is a powerful 9-piece outfit hailing from Denton, Texas. Led by bassist Michael League and consisting of talented students associated with the University of North Texas jazz program, the group produces an immensely funky sound informed by a solid jazz foundation. Already well-known in the vibrant Denton music community, Snarky Puppy is rapidly converting fans and establishing a following because of its ability to relentlessly lay down the groove.
Confidently taking the stage, the band immediately erupts into "Thorn," a composition by alto saxophonist Brian Donohoe. A solid syncopated rhythm is established by the keyboard, bass, and drums before a soaring doubletime melody by the horns enters. A quick bridge and solo break sets the stage for an amazing solo by Donohoe, also a member of UNT's famed One O'Clock Lab Band. Michael League, standing towards the back of the stage in front of the drums, supports the group with slippery electric bass tone, contributes slaps and pops in all the right places. After a fast reprise of the melody, the song's initial groove intensifies and collapses in a flutter of claps from the audience.
The Pup's magic lies in their union of strong technical ability and hot buttered groove that seems effortless and always intensely funky. Drawing equally from the worlds of jazz fusion and funk and R&B, the sound is sprawling, and the musical influences are wide and many. On "Intelligent Design," the drum patterns mimic a drum machine and the floating melody performed by slide guitar and muted trumpet brings Scandanavian groups like Jaga Jazzist and Nils Petter Molvaer to mind. Solos can trigger comparisons to Weather Report, Parliament, and Funkadelic in a matter of measures.
"The World is Getting Smaller," the title track to the group's second album, bridges the gap between Spanish chord movement and the bouncy groove of the infamous tumbao rhythm of Cuban music. Justin Stanton gave an impressive introduction to this composition on solo trumpet; a graduate student at UNT, he is filling in for the regular trumpeter Jay Jennings who is spending the summer on a world tour with Dallas cult phenomenon The Polyphonic Spree. Snarky Puppy possesses a talent in negotiating the world of instrumental music with ease and style.
This performance in particular was heightened by the added presence of Bernard Wright on keyboard. Wright plays regularly with Michael League in a church ensemble; his resumé includes stints with legends like drummer Lenny White, The RH Factor, Charles Earland, and Miles Davis (during his relentless later years), but also with many R&B artists. Kait Dunton, the regular keyboard player, stayed mostly with an electric piano or Fender Rhodes sound while Wright contributed a synthesizer sound that moved between clavinet and a more cheesy string sound that wouldn't sound out of place in a Victor Wooten ensemble. He soloed in a frenzy, with quick bursts of inspiration and energy, darting in and out of the ensemble sound. In "Hot and Bothered," a slow Stax cooker from the group's first album that somewhat resembles "Babylon Sisters" by Steely Dan, Wright and masterful guitarist Chris McQueen battle it out, trading riffs and ideas—at times even Michael League jumps into the mix. Drummer Steve Pruitt also drove the ensemble, providing a deep pocket and contributing his own ideas to the brew. The energy and excitement of the group onstage was unmatched by any other recent performance I've seen.
In the middle of the last tune, as the horns drop out and Bernard Wright contributes a quick quote from the Morricone soundtrack to "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," Michael League assumes the role of bandleader and introduces the band over a drum beat. Hailing from throughout the country, the players in this group crafted an immense set, full of fire, instant collaboration, and a ceaseless conception of groove. Snarky Puppy is a band in the same neighborhood as other groups like Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Nomo, and Yesterday's New Quintet that strive to bring jazz-influenced funky music to the masses. And judging from this performance and their latest CD, they succeed in that mission.
By the end of their set, the crowd had swelled with fans waiting for Mingo Fishtrap. They gave the band some credit, recognizing their musicianship. Snarky Puppy, after a final burst, left the stage. Stevie Wonder's album "Innervisions" came on the theater's sound system, an apt choice for the evening's background music. Soon Mingo Fishtrap came on, a loud cross between the Blues Brothers and Tower of Power, complete with the horn section's dance moves. I found myself let down, thinking that Snarky Puppy's original energy was no match for this group's recreation of anonymous funky music. With more dates in the Dallas area during the summer and a tour that leads them to the East in the early fall, Snarky Puppy's groovy star is definitely on the rise. Their capacity for excitement is limitless and this performance was a perfect reminder of this. This band is one example of a dog whose bark is definitely bigger than its bite.
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Although the headliner, Rudder, is a highly regarded quartet from New York City, it's the local boys...Although the headliner, Rudder, is a highly regarded quartet from New York City, it's the local boys who are the real stars of this triple bill. Both Oso Closo and Snarky Puppy are products of the University of North Texas' prestigious music program, but they traverse areas far removed from the standard 1 O'Clock Lab Band experience. Bursting at the seams with 11 members, Snarky Puppy throws some serious funk and indie soul into their lengthy and abstract jams. Drawing on influences as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu and Björk, this Puppy somehow manages to go in multiple directions while remaining imminently listenable. Oso Closo has been around since 2004 but didn't get around to releasing a CD until April of this year, but Rest was certainly worth the wait. Ambitious and occasionally overloaded, the songs of Adrian Hulet and crew leave no solo behind, as each member is unafraid of showing off his instrumental dexterity. If technique is what you're looking for, this show will feature enough shredding and bombast to please fans of metal and jazz alike.
Snarky Puppy Stumps for New Record with Good Result
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June 10, 2007 DALLAS — Denton music lovers only needed something blue earlier this month at the G...June 10, 2007
DALLAS — Denton music lovers only needed something blue earlier this month at the Granada Theater in Dallas. They already had something old and something new.
New Denton jazz/rock/funk/soul/jam band Snarky Puppy opened for old Denton funk/soul jam band Mingo Fishtrap (yep, it was named by band founder Roger Blevins Jr. after the road in Denton).
Mingo — all former North Texas jazz students except bassist Roger Blevins Sr., who is the father of the front man — formed in Denton in the mid-1990s before relocating to Austin. The band is dedicated to combining what it calls, “gut-bucket soul” with “Nawlins grit-down funk” and “Mo-town pop.”
Snarky Puppy came along in 2004 and also was spurned from the North Texas music scene, but their sound tends to fly all over the musical spectrum in what bassist, composer and front man Michael League likes to call “world fusion.” For League, going on before Mingo was like opening for the future.
“It made setup easy,” he joked. “Seriously, though. Mingo is a great sounding band, and they have a great past, a great present, and a great future. They have proved that you can have a 10-piece band in Texas and make a living.”
June dispersed much of Snarky’s fan base home for the summer, so the band’s crowd was decidedly smaller than when the Puppy last played at the Granada, opening up for bass grandmaster Victor Wooten a month ago.
The band has changed as well. Normal trombonist Sara Jacovino is taking the fall tour of the South and East Coast off, so new trombonist Stephen Smith sat in on Friday to get the hang of the band. Also, the normal nine-person setup — League on bass, Justin Stanton on trumpet, Clay Pritchard on tenor sax, Brian Donohoe on soprano and alto sax, Kait Dunton on the Nord synthesizer, Chris McQueen on guitar, Steve Pruitt on drums and Nate Werth on percussion — was beefed up to 10. Soul and funk keyboard legend Bernard Wright, who currently plays in Dallas band Country Fried Soul, added a second set of keys to the lineup in support of the nimble-fingered Dunton.
Once the band started playing, the show also differed from the last time Snarky Puppy invaded the Granada to take advantage of one of the best sound systems and live venues North Texas has to offer.
Before Wooten took stage, Snarky Puppy barked like a big dog, pulling out all of the funk stops. Playing before Mingo, the show was a bit more restrained.
“Mingo is a funk band, so we played some funky stuff,” League said. “But, they were going to play two hours of soul tonight, so we wanted to play less soul stuff. We wanted to bring them into it with some soul, but we wanted to establish a difference between us and them.”
Snarky Puppy is pushing a new album, The World is Getting Smaller , and that is evident by the song selections. Five of the songs come off the new disc, starting with “Thorn,” a trumpet and sax-laced piece reminiscent of Steely Dan.
From there, it rolled into “Intelligent Design,” and Snarky showed off its versatility and willingness to change speed. Dunton and McQueen launched into a spacey synthesizer-keyboard duel, but Snarky continued to throw curveballs within the song itself, melding into more traditional jazz solos from Donohoe on alto before moving back into another solo from McQueen.
“Motorboat” continued the rocking, jam band feel before returning to the 1970’s soulful sound for “Alma,” with Pritchard getting his turn to spotlight on tenor before the two percussionists took over for drum solos.
As Snarky played, more Fishtrap fans spilled into the venue, causing an upward swing in the mood both in the room and on stage, and the band rode that wave to close strong.
“Hot and Bothered” went traditional jazz, with Stanton’s trumpet mingling playfully with Dunton and Wright on the keys.
From there, the titular song for the new album was the highlight of the night, with the crowd finally catching up in intensity with what was transpiring on stage. Like any good jazz or jam band, Snarky built on that and closed with their most upbeat rocking number of the night, “Phoebus,” a lengthy but tight jam that left the crowd wound up for Mingo and wanting more Snarky — which they received when the horn section jumped on stage later to jam with their Denton predecessors.
Missed the show? No problem, the next chance to get some more of both bands comes right here in Denton. Snarky will be opening for Mingo on June 29 at Hailey’s Club.
Jazz That Bites at Your Ankles
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The Renaissance Center may not be the first place people think of to go for live music, but the Arts...The Renaissance Center may not be the first place people think of to go for live music, but the Arts Council of Greater Kingsport hopes to change that with the fall season of its Art Nights/City Lights performance arts series.
The series, in its second season, hopes to expand its promotion of performing arts in Kingsport, including theater, dance, film and now more live music.
Kicking off the fall series is Snarky Puppy, a world fusion instrumental jazz band, on Saturday at 8 p.m. The group consists of nine musicians from the prestigious jazz studies program at the University of North Texas, led by bassist and composer Michael League. Snarky, a word meaning "irritable" or "short tempered," was chosen to highlight the band's edgy, temperamental sound, League said.
When asked what a "snarky" puppy would be like, he explained: "I guess a dog that would go after your ankles."
But Snarky Puppy's first release, "The Only Constant," is much smoother than the band's name might suggest. The instrumentation flows, the rhythms often steady while guitars and horns weave in and out of each other in a dream-like fashion. Every now and then a distorted electric guitar puts some fire into the songs, but League said the band saves a lot of its grooving for the live setting.
"We're used to playing performance arts places," he said. "But with this band we typically play clubs," often with jam bands and harder rock groups, he added, which has forced Snarky Puppy to build a repertoire with all kinds of styles, volumes and levels of "snarkiness."
"Our repertoire is diverse enough for both settings," he said. "We're gonna feel out the crowd and watch how the audience reacts to us."
The band cites influences from jazz greats like guitarist Wayne Krantz, to the textures of Radiohead and Bjork and even the feel of soul singers like Jill Scott and D'Angelo.
"The soul thing is definitely present," League said. "It's kind of a melting pot as far as our influences [go]."
In addition to Snarky Puppy and their other musical contemporaries on the Art Nights/City Lights calender, the series has booked East Indian Classical Dance, the internationally performing Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble and the Nashville Film Festival among others, giving a variety of performing arts the limelight.
The series is sponsored by the Arts Council of Greater Kingsport, Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, Bryant Label Company, Charter Communications, Citadel Broadcasting, GoTriCities Network, Hampton Inn, Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kingsportï¿½s Cultural Services, Kingsport Theatre Guild, Kingsport Times-News and WKPT-AM Radio.
For more information on Art Nights/City Lights, visit www.kingsportarts.org or call the Renaissance Center at 392-8417.
- LUKE BROGDEN
Mix of World Fusion, Funk, Rock Packs Hailey's
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DENTON BAND SNARKY PUPPY HEADLINES HUGE AUDIENCE, SHOOTS DVD. The line was long outside Hailey's ...DENTON BAND SNARKY PUPPY HEADLINES HUGE AUDIENCE, SHOOTS DVD.
The line was long outside Hailey's last Saturday night when Snarky Puppy performed to a tightly packed audience. Undeterred by the rain, people crowded the entrance to catch the heavy lineup: Country Fried Soul, Oso Closo and Snarky Puppy, directed by Michael League, Clifton, Va.,, senior.
Although it was Snarky Puppy's night, organized to shoot their first video, the two openers wouldn't have let down even a casual listener of funk, rock, hip-hop, soul or jazz. The level of musicianship among the bands and the ability of each to entertain was, to say the least, outstanding.
Snarky Puppy continued to push the envelope with League's tasteful tunes and arrangements as well as the band's overall energy.
The band's music is best described as world fusion. Whether hard or soft, the music produced by League's group keeps audiences moving and wondering what will come next.
This time, Snarky Puppy performed instrumental tunes exclusively. Maybe that's not your thing, but do not mistake League's band, with no vocalist that night, for music without a song.
The lyrical lines played by trumpet player Jay Jennings, Grapevine senior, illustrated the Latin American vibe to "The World is Getting Smaller" in a kind of romantic blues. The tune opened with a baion-like beat and switched to reggaton, a popular Puerto Rican style.
Snarky Puppy started the set with about four minutes of a free improvisation with no meter. The tune, "Phoebus," then broke into a groove placed right in the pocket.
Big bass and snare from Steve Pruitt, Oklahoma City alumnus, fat bass lines from League, tasteful leads and comps from guitarist Chris McQueen, Austin alumnus, pianist Kait Dunton, Pasadena, Calif., graduate student and Nate Werth's colorful percussion dancing throughout the set is just a little of what can be said about this powerhouse rhythm section.
Early on in the set, a drum-and-bass tune, "Intelligent Design," incorporated an important Brazilian style called chorinho. The rhythm was realized through the piano with upbeats and periodic downbeats giving a sense of upward motion to compliment the driving, syncopated nature of the drum-and-bass style.
Although this show was primarily intended to bring together the music of these awesome bands, League said another important goal was to maintain a presence with the audiences before the upcoming release of new albums from all three bands. He said Snarky Puppy's new album is more groove-oriented as opposed to the first album, which featured more open jazz feels.
The night ended with "Native Sons." It started with Werth playing triangle, while the band layered in, building intensity.
When it grabs you and you feel the rhythm and time pulling from within your core soul, accompanied by the harmonic and melodic textures twisting and teasing your ears, the whole experience adds to a musical phenomenon only kept alive by bands like Snarky Puppy, stretching the boundaries of music and groove.
By Kevin Zahner
We have lots and lots of original music. See!
Hot and Bothered
The World is Getting Smaller
Bring Us the Bright
Making the Circle
And Soon We'll Be One
The Little People
The Good Man Deliver and the Best is Blessed
We try to avoid covers, but here are a few we pull out from time to time.
Little Flamenco (Chick Corea)
Jan Jan (Grant Green)
Drunken Master (Groove Collective)
Actual Proof (Headhunters)
Shapons Vindaloo (Vasen)
In the Mevla Khane (Antonis Arpegis)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.