This album is a great finale to the Immigrance 2019 tour in much the same way North Sea was in 2018 for the 2-year Culcha Vulcha tour. The production values are stellar with extra clear engineering nearly on par with studio album. The audience sound is notable in that it is absent from the recording except at precisely the right times – end of solos or end of songs. Not sure if this is part of the mixing or the audience was actually that in tune. The sound was big since there were thirteen band members instead of the usual eight to ten. Some of the personnel callouts are tough based on sound alone but I got great assistance from superfan Steven Haugereid. The songs are all by now familiar yet each one on this two-disc set has its own special aspects, either in the personnel, instrumentation or soloing and they are recapped here:
- New-new songs from Immigrance (Even Us, While We’re Young, Bad Kids to the Back, Bigly Strictness, Xavi, Chonks
- Older new songs (Tarova, Sleeper, Shofukan), and
- Old songs (Intelligent Design, Alma)
You can purchase the album on CD or vinyl here: Snarky Puppy at Royal Albert Hall.
- Even Us – The crowd roars then drops to silence as Mark Lettieri on guitar starts with the transfixing solo. Bill comes in on piano and the aural channels are triggered. Synth keys join in and I’m reminded of the spaghetti Western music feel of this sentimental song. The organ accompaniment is awesome before the full band enters led by Zach Brock on violin. Even Us has such an orchestral feel to it and in that respect it fits in with the Sylva or Culcha Vulcha albums even though it’s brand new. The tempo picks up for the final 1/3 of the song sounding a little dark as Mike ‘Maz’ Maher plays a terrific flugelhorn solo and the crowd cheers before the final piano closeout.
- Intelligent Design – This is one of the “old” tunes that was resurrected for the tail end of the tour (Fall 2019) pulled from The World Is Getting Smaller, the group’s third album from 2007. Up until the GroundUP Music Festival 2020, I hadn’t seen it performed live, but I had listened to all of the versions recorded during the tour. This one reinforces that it’s a great tune and fits in the band’s live repertoire as well as any newer stuff. The start as usual is a steady keyboard intro quickly joined by bass and drum. The horns come in with the main chorus and there’s some terrific drum and percussion work. Jason ‘JT’ Thomas particularly shines throughout the whole album. The smooth horn line is in distinct contrast to the syncopated rhythm. Chris Bullock takes a cool, extended tenor solo about half way through and at one point it’s just him and JT playing around. The crowd appreciates Chris’ solo before it breaks to a tender keys & guitar duo. Then Mark takes over on guitar with a Metheny-like solo of his own. The keys + JT duo comes next before the main chorus rides it out to a frenetic end. This is a stellar take on the song and JT’s part shines bright. The fans go wild.
- While We’re Young – Next up, While We’re Young starts with a now familiar opening before the horns come in followed by the guitar part with some heavy bent notes. Maz is up next with a beautiful flugelhorn solo backed by JT, bass and some light keys. It’s appropriate because Maz penned this tune and it was abbreviated on the Immigrance album but extended differently for each show. Next up is a trumpet solo by Justin Stanton putting his own spin on the break before the full team comes back together. Mark makes his mark with some twangy licks before playing along with the horns between the spaces.
- Alma – This is the second “old tune that was played on the fall tour also from “The World Is Getting Smaller.” Alma means soul in Portuguese and it does have that Brazilian flair. It starts with a nice piano – guitar duo before the cymbals signal the band’s full entrance. Bob Reynolds takes a silky solo early on as the band lays back. After a couple of minutes, the band comes back and the blend from solo to chorus is seamless. Mark and Keita then hit it off and Keita shows some amazing chops. Welcome back, Alma!
- Bad Kids to the Back – This was the second single from the Immigrance album and came out with an animated video that quickly hit 1 million views. Early on we get a nice organ solo from Bobby Sparks and it’s swirling whirlwind with so many changes it’s hard to keep up. The tune was penned by Justin Stanton and is probably the most traditional Snarky sounding of the Immigrance album. This version is really funked up with Michael playing off the drums/percussion three-quarters through. JT hammers out an awesome solo to the close (compared with three drum solos on the actual album). Again, the crowd’s excitement comes through as a roar.
- Bigly Strictness – The tune is not often played on tour, but it’s certainly become one of my favorites. My friend Khaled from Egypt says there is a clear Arabic rhythm to it and the end percussion section really highlights that every time. Justin Stanton takes a turn with a synth solo that’s a little low key at the start. There’s a nice synth sounding solo midway actually from Chris Bullock with an octave-up effect and fuzz. When the horns and percussion come back in that processional march theme at the end, it’s impossible to keep your head from bobbing. Then Zach takes his turn as soloist and as usual it is impeccable and so great to have such diversity in this band and music. Zach plays as “hard” as possible on violin with a funkiness that at times can border on a metal music sound – just shredding – and the crowd appreciates it. One nuanced change is that at the end we hear the big drum closeout instead of a more mid ranged conga.
- Tarova – Of course, Tarova starts with the new arrangement that was unveiled at the North Sea 2018, with some keys from Justin forming the background and then a conversation between Shaun on talkbox and Bobby on organ. This is definitely one of the disc highlights. Then they join in unison for the main song intro. This is one of those older new ones off the Grammy-winning Culcha Vulcha album. Shaun is all over this with the talkbox and the horns are vise tight. It’s such a great horn line. Next Shaun takes a ‘talking’ solo with great percussion accompaniment. Mark lights up the last third of the song with a blistering solo. The final ominous sounding section is super powerful – this must’ve been a great one to see live.
- Xavi – Xavi was the first single off the Immigrance album and is features Chris Bullock’s wonderful flute intro. After that, the tune settles into that hypnotic pattern guitar- percussion background with horns flying over the top. Bob takes another swinging solo with great spacing relative to the backing sounds. Next there is a spacy synth solo by Shaun. After the chorus, there’s another piano-sounding key solo by Bill Laurance. The final krakeb section closes out the song on a high note.
- Chonks – Here’s another tune tailor made for Shaun with the talkbox. Bobby also typically shines here on clavinet (not sure if it was incorporated for this show). Shaun’s funky lead is a unique identifier here. The sound engineering is great – every instrument comes through evenly and clear as a bell. Then the solo by Maz is a little surprising as he uses the mute to sound like a synth. It’s a super funky change up from some of the other Chonks. Toward the end the band mixes it up with a dramatic change of pace, similar to what they have done with “What About Me?” in the past. The last part features Bobby on clavinet with a swirling section sounding like Stevie Wonder, then a twangy speed section and ending with a fuzzed-up section with a beautiful piano contrast.
- Sleeper – This version starts with a dreamy piano solo, with Shaun leading with a strong talkbox solo. Sleeper has become one a major set closer, often as an encore and this one is a great example. After the main melody, the percussion section comes in with amazing arsenal. There is no mistaking that Shaun is the star of Sleeper every time. After an abrupt slowdown, he starts a dialogue with the audience, “Can I play my song for you?” and they respond vociferously in kind. The band hits so strongly it sounds orchestral in the back and forth with Shaun. Shaun takes this version to a completely new level with a supersonic electronic solo, perhaps the best I’ve ever heard.
- Shofukan– Shofukan is a fitting closeout, one of the songs that first got me hooked on Snarky Puppy, and a frequent encore. Mark does a great job on the haunting guitar opening. Justin takes his usual trumpet lead here and it’s all so powerful when the full horn section and band comes back. Shaun eggs the crowd on with “hey, hey, hey.” The bridge has Bob Reynolds taking a sultry solo with a very pleasing, pleading tone and he kills it. The synth section that follows brings everyone back funkin’ strong and Shaun leads the vocal audience chorus and they are in tune and time. Then it is time a full onslaught percussion trio by Nate, Keita and Marcelo. It’s hard to comprehend the precision timing of these guys. This extended version has Shaun keep taking the crowd to another level. And just when you think it’s over, Bobby takes a clavinet solo that keeps the crowd cheering and Shofukan hits a new climactic ending.
The crowd response to this show is phenomenal and I believe that anyone who listens will have the same reaction. It’s a must listen for all Snarky Puppy fans!
- Mark Lettieri, guitar,
- Zach Brock, violin
- Bobby Sparks,keys
- Bill Laurance, keys
- Shaun Martin, keys and talkbox
- Justin Stanton, keys and trumpet
- Mike “Maz” Maher, trumpet and flugelhorn
- Chris Bullock, tenor sax, flute, bass flute
- Bob Reynolds, tenor sax
- Jason “JT” Thomas, drums
- Keita Ogawa, percussion
- Marcelo Woloski, percussion
- Mason Davis, krakeb on Xavi
- Michael League, bass, Moog bass and krakeb