Snarky Puppy and Metropole Orkest - Sylva
(Impulse Records 0602547222558. CD review by Rob Mallows)
When you’ve won a Grammy, had your last album constantly in the charts and done over 200 sold-out shows each year to a global audience, making yourselves the new king-pins of contemporary jazz, what do you do next?
In the case of Michael League’s all-conquering Snarky Puppy, you do a concept album with an orchestra. A touch of hubris? Not a bit of it! With this album/DVD, Snarky Puppy show that they have what it takes to take jazz to a mass audience while retaining a clear respect and love for their craft, and growing as a musical collective.
Sylva represents a musical departure, but the core Puppy sound remains to the fore, driven by the rhythm section of League and drummer ’Sput’ Searight, the trumpet playing of Maz Maher and the beautiful keyboard runs of Bill Laurance.
Allusions to woodland in the title indicate the thematic pulse of this suite of six tunes: each is part of a story dedicated to the forest, with League across six tracks capturing the many sides of a place where, he says, “he feels truly connected to the earth as a human being.” All the pieces were written specifically for playing with Dutch ensemble the Metropole Orkest.
With an orchestra behind them, Snarky Puppy sound radically different - more expansive, more organic (they only used analog instruments), drawing inspiration from the metal and wood landscape in which they recorded this album, with audience members situated in and around the band. The accompanying DVD demonstrates well what fun the band, orchestra and audience clearly have with the music.
Opener Sintra is, after a mournful string elegy, a majestic start: League’s pulsing bass introducing the enviable sound of the three-man horn section of Maher, Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock. This is a tricky little tune, with elements of Spanish rhythms and textures introduced by the orchestra, which sets the mood for the album. There is definitely a sense of this music as both jazz album and soundtrack to a film. Sintra segués into the best track on the album, Flight, with Bob Lanzetti’s insistent guitar lick giving way to some beautiful motifs from Cory Henry on the Moog. In the middle it gives off a ‘70s vibe, but it has a fresh modern sound which exemplifies the magic of 'the Puppy'.
Track three, Atchafalaya jumps out of the speakers - Ries Schellekens’ tuba pumping out a jaunty riff, giving room for swing - some really deep swing - from the Snarky Puppy horns, which embellish a fun track that is appreciated by the audience which applauses rapturously at its end. The rest of the tracks on the album are of equal quality - there are no dog tracks to skip here. Two long tracks in particular - The Curtain and closer The Clearing are over fifteen minutes each and border on symphonic film music, with different movements giving the band and orchestra a story-telling opportunity which they don’t miss. A total blast throughout.
The accompanying DVD of the recording demonstrates just what a smooth running music-making machine Snarky Puppy is. They’re a band which, led by the rhythmic genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) of Michael League, is greater than the sum of the fantastically likeable parts and demands to be enjoyed. The only way is up for Snarky Puppy.
A real joy.