More than once I’ve been asked what kind of music Snarky Puppy plays? A natural response would be jazz-funk-fusion but with recent albums We Like It Here, Family Dinner- Volume 2, Sylva and Culcha Vulcha, you’d have to add ‘world’ into the mix. And why not classical since Sylva, which I consider a jazz symphony, was recorded with the 52-piece Metropole Orkest from the Netherlands. Mostly instrumental, yes, but they’ve also cut two Family Dinner albums with vocals. So ultimately, the band is the most unique, evolving, and growing band I’ve ever seen. Their unpredictability makes each album and each show a hugely anticipated event.
Over the last three years, I’ve seen Snarky Puppy live 17 times (not including side projects) with six more scheduled within the next two months (see table). What some fans don’t realize is that Snarky Puppy is not a traditional group, it’s an ensemble, much like a baseball team. Michael League, is the player/coach determining the lineup for each performance. A typical show will have two percussionists, two keys, two trumpets, one sax, one guitar, one bass for a total of nine. I’ve seen with as few as seven and as many as twelve. On their recent spring tour, Zack Brock was added on violin to showcase the latest album Culcha Vulcha, on which he is featured. Each position has multiple musicians that can fill that slot. Indeed, Justin Stanton, most often doubles on trumpet and keys. Like a true music geek, I’ve tried to calculate the number of potential lineups there are based on the ‘core’ players and have come up with 4,320 (see featured image). And that doesn’t even account for additional players like Zack Brock or Keita Ogawa on percussion which would add even more.
I’ve read about promoters trying to ensure one player or another be at a specific show and heard friends express the same sentiment. What I personally find compelling is that each show is likely to have a different lineup, thereby presenting a unique interpretation of each song even though you may have seen or heard that song many times before. Every performer I’ve ever seen with Snarky Puppy is a consummate professional that fits in seamlessly and brings a fresh, virtuoso perspective to the band. The challenge for avid fans is to understand and keep up with all the nuances in the music put forth by this all-star team.