If you are a regular reader of the FunkCity.net articles, the previous Snarky Puppy concert review documented an absolutely insane show in Belgrade, Serbia. It was off the wall…the fans were screaming like banshees, the solos were stretched like rubber bands, and Shaun Martin went completely bananas. After that high-octane extravaganza, Snarky Puppy went to Austria for the Vienna Jazz Festival. This performance and the audience are much more subdued, but the musicianship is still top-notch.
Even Us – Bob Lanzetti opens the show with the drawn-out guitar chords in the key of A minor. Shaun Martin delicately plays the melody on his keyboard. Michael League adds some meat to the bones with some rock-steady bass. Even at such a slow tempo, Michael’s groove never falters. Then Chris Bullock (on tenor sax) and Bobby Sparks (on organ) play the melody in tandem. Marcelo Woloski and Louis Cato establish a light Middle Eastern percussion groove in the background. Chris and Shaun handle the melody as Mike “Maz” Maher and Justin Stanton support them on their horns. Then the song goes into double time and Bobby adds some melodic licks on his Moog. Marcelo adds plenty of shimmering metallic colors to the picture. Justin solos on the trumpet…now I can recognize his sound and style after listening to so many Snarky Puppy recordings! Throughout this solo, he leaves a lot of space between the melodic ideas and really lets the “butter notes” shine. After the final recap, the audience cheers as Bob delivers the last few measures.
Tarova – Justin opens with the Prophet synthesizer chords and Louis throws down an intense backbeat. Bobby and Shaun exchange words on the organ and talkbox. Bobby sneakily quotes “The Lick,” but Shaun one-ups him with a direct quote of Parliament’s “Flashlight.” Once the dual melody hits, the groove grows some legs. The horns pick up the melody and run with it. After Shaun and the guitarists tackle the bridge, Maz goes off on the trumpet. There’s not as much rapid-fire technique here, but Maz’s skillful use of the wah effect is amazing. After a series of repeated quarter notes, Maz quotes “Flashlight” again…wow! After the rest of the band returns, Marcelo takes a quick solo with lots of timbale, cowbell, and crasher action before the end of the tune.
While We’re Young – We get a standard opening where each melodic section of the band (keyboards, horns, and guitar) trades the melody between themselves. Justin doubles Bob’s melody on the Prophet synth while Shaun lays down some string patches on his keyboard. Then Bobby hammers the point home on the clavinet and organ. Bobby uses his wah, distortion, and pitch-bending tools on the clav to their fullest capacity, and he pulls out the organ drawbars for a rich, full-bodied sound. The rhythm section lays down a solid foundation for Bobby to build his house upon. Finally, Bobby shows off his dexterity with some crazy chromatic runs before the band hits the outro and fades out.
GØ – Louis Cato shows off his titanic jazz drumming chops! He sets up a speedy ride cymbal pattern and then plays freely with the hi-hat, snare, kick drum, and toms before launching into the afoxê groove. After Bob’s opening, we get the first verse led by the horns’ spiffy melody. Michael and Bobby turn up the heat with the funky bassline. Then Bob shreds on some pentatonic A minor for a while. He concludes with some distorted whammy bar action and a few sustained low drones. Next, the band hits the C minor solo section. Chris switches to the flute and the trumpeters use mutes. Shaun takes charge with a wet-and-wild vocoder solo that’s chock-full of pitch bend and modulation. This particular solo is so well-crafted and builds to a mind-blowing climax…like a good movie plot! After the horns lead the final “recap” section, Justin puts a bow on it with a lively Prophet solo. Unlike his earlier trumpet effort, this synthesizer solo is full of more sustained melismatic runs. It also benefits from having pitch bend and modulation, which are more difficult to achieve on a wind or brass instrument. Finally, the band hits the outro and fades out. (I just remembered that the final melodic statement seems to quote “the Lick” as well…) After the audience gives Snarky Puppy a well-deserved ovation, Michael welcomes the crowd and thanks them for braving the cold weather to see the show.
Palermo – Before the tune begins, Michael teaches the audience how to clap the chacarera rhythm. Once they get it, Bobby and Marcelo kick it off on organ and bombo legüero. Bob’s guitar subdivisions are high in the mix. Maz delivers the opening verse as Marcelo keeps time. There’s some light Rhodes accompaniment from either Justin or Shaun. When the groove shifts, Chris Bullock goes nuts in his saxophone solo. He whips out a whole lot of insane chromatic runs, intense syncopated patterns, and some daring altissimo. Maz sings the melody again and trades it with Bobby. Marcelo takes it home with an impressive polyrhythmic solo centered around the bombo, timbales, and cowbells. The audience’s clapping gets a bit sloppy, but that’s not a significant problem.
Bad Kids to the Back – Michael, Louis, and the keyboardists strut their stuff in the intro. The horn section swiftly glides through the intricate melody. When the solo section arrives, Maz channels his inner Dizzy Gillespie with some textbook bebop runs, a handful of stuttering licks, and more than a few interesting note choices. After the dual guitar-synth lead, Louis drastically changes the feel of the solo vamp by playing only his hi-hat and kick instead of a two-and-four backbeat. Then Louis deftly demonstrates his linear chops. First he plays around with the snare, kick, and hi-hat. Next he goes all-out on his small cymbal stacks, and gradually incorporates his toms. The horns add their pops to the vamp before Michael cues the outro. The audience cheers loudly and Michael introduces Maz and Louis.
Thing of Gold – We get the album arrangement of this Snarky Puppy classic with Chris’s saxophone up front. Shaun plays the Moog lead without getting the audience involved. The horns add some lush harmonies underneath. Justin blows on his trumpet for a bit and goes for the gold with some very high notes. Shaun rounds it out with another brilliant keyboard solo and milks the outro to the crowd’s delight. Michael introduces the band and the crew (including their lighting engineer, coincidentally named James Brown) and has a “six-second rehearsal” to go over a change in the next song. Then he shows the fans how to clap the 4:3 polyrhythm.
Xavi – This is a shortened version omitting the second solo. Louis, Marcelo, and Michael set a brisk tempo and Chris delivers the famous flute melody. After the standard first verse and chorus, Bobby plays a freaky Moog solo that nearly attracts a starship from another galaxy. It’s syncopated, jagged, eerie, and incredibly funky…par for the course when it comes to a Bobby Sparks Moog solo! After the audience claps the polyrhythm and Chris sets up the bridge, Justin brings the goods with a masterful Fender Rhodes solo. Finally, Michael whips out the krakebs, the fans clap the polyrhythm, and the band crushes the outro. After a quick break, Snarky Puppy comes back for an encore.
Shofukan (Encore) – Bob plays the opening riff and the band layers in. Justin nails the trumpet solo, and Bobby adds some clear-cut funk with his clavinet. Chris is left alone with the rhythm section, so he creates an amazing saxophone solo from scratch. Starting with just a few melodic ideas, it builds in intensity and density (amount of notes) and soon Chris is going completely mental! After the brief segue to the final chorus, Michael, Bobby, and Shaun set up a funky bassline and the percussionists lock into a tight groove. During the final “sing-along,” the crowd sings with great enthusiasm. Even after Michael says goodnight and the band leaves the stage, the crowd keeps singing the chorus.
In my honest opinion, this is not a show like Belgrade, Salt Lake City, or Los Angeles where the energy was off the charts. Each tune is played straight through with the exception of the altered “Xavi.” Shaun even lays off of the hypemaster antics – there’s not a peep from him! While there’s nothing unusual or noteworthy about this concert, it’s a great showcase of nine musicians who enjoy nothing more than making music for receptive listeners. This audience is perhaps one of the most polite and attentive groups I’ve ever heard, which makes the experience so much more pleasing. My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Tarova,” “GØ,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Thing of Gold,” and “Xavi.”
- Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
- Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhor
- Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
- Bobby Sparks – keyboards
- Shaun Martin – keyboards
- Bob Lanzetti – guitar
- Michael League – bass
- Louis Cato – drums
- Marcelo Woloski – percussion
- Matt Recchia – monitors
- Michael Harrison – engineering and sound (front of house)
- Nic Hard – mixing
About the Reviewer
Hi! I’m Doug, and I really love Snarky Puppy. I first learned about this supergroup in 2014 when some college friends introduced me to their albums Groundup, Family Dinner Volume 1 and We Like It Here. I was amazed by the caliber of talent and how all the parts (melody, harmony, rhythm, and accompaniment) came together seamlessly.
Then on July 31, 2015 my family and I went to the Newport Jazz Festival. Snarky Puppy was one of the featured artists along with Christian McBride, Chris Botti, Arturo Sandoval, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Jon Faddis, Lucky Peterson, Kneebody, and Jon Batiste & Stay Human. Over the course of ninety minutes, Snarky Puppy played a lot of material from WLIH, including the ultra-popular “Lingus.”
I was absolutely awestruck by the infectious grooves, the wild jazz harmonies, and the mind-blowing solos that each band member took. That performance changed my life. Although it is still the only Snarky Puppy concert I have attended, it certainly won’t be my last. I hope to see them perform in the United States very soon, once things start to open up in greater capacity after COVID-19.
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