After a well-received set at the Vienna Jazz Festival, Snarky Puppy continued on their tour throughout Europe. They stopped in Lviv, Ukraine for the first time and played a great show at the Leopolis Jazz Festival. This setlist draws on a wider variety of tunes from the Snarky Puppy catalog, so there’s less material from Immigrance. Nonetheless, the energy is high and the music is insanely good. A bonus YouTube video is linked at the end of this review.
Embossed – Louis Cato and Marcelo Woloski light the wick with an intense opening groove. Bob Lanzetti makes his entrance on the slide guitar, and Bobby Sparks comes in with some sweet colors on the Hammond organ. The horns layer their harmonies, and during the second verse Mike “Maz” Maher climbs up into the higher register of the trumpet. Michael League lays down a simplistic bassline with lots of space between the notes. Bob tears it up during the solo spot and really goes to town with his note choices and sonic exploration. Soon he’s flying high – with some VERY high and fast fretwork. Afterwards, Louis changes up the feel of the groove. The horn section nails the rapid-fire passage. Shaun Martin milks the vibrato on his synthesizer to close the tune.
Palermo – Marcelo sets the groove up and the keyboardists create a beautiful soundscape. Bob adds some clean subdivisions on his guitar. Maz plays the opening melody, with support from Justin Stanton’s Fender Rhodes, Michael’s bass, and Bobby’s swirling organ. Once the solo section gets introduced (with Bobby’s clavinet sounding a bit thinner and more “buzzy” than usual), Chris Bullock goes to infinity and beyond. He starts out slowly but steadily on his tenor sax, playing in the E-flat minor scale. After a few bars, he gets more adventurous with some chromatic licks, swung rhythms, and the extreme registers. Maz and Bobby have their turns with the melody, and Marcelo delivers a mind-bending solo during the fade-out. The audience claps the chacarera rhythm with very little difficulty…even with Marcelo’s intricate stylings!
Bigly Strictness – As Bob plays the distorted opening riff, Michael holds the fort down with the sub-octave bass. Louis keeps time and Marcelo adds some quick tambourine hits. The keyboardists hop on the bus, and then the horns envelop everything with a brazen, fuzzed-out melody. It sounds like Chris is using his octave pedal. Bobby whips it out with an overdriven clavinet solo full of pitch bend and vibrato. Next, Maz surfs the B-section wave with his trusty Hendrix-trumpet. He rides the feedback several times and produces some crazy sounds! As the choppy waters die down, we get some time for the bass, percussion, and keyboards. Chris and Maz resurface with the closing melody before Shaun Martin takes a Moog talkbox solo. Starting with some simple melodic ideas, he adds some frantic sixteenth-note runs and plays one particular note (B-flat) over and over again! After Shaun’s last high-pitched note (with plenty of modulation to boot), the Ukranian crowd lets out a huge cheer and Michael welcomes them to the show. He introduces Justin Stanton and the next song “Gemini.”
Gemini – Michael plays the distinctive bassline over Louis and Marcelo’s quiet but funky groove. Justin and Bob add their touches on Rhodes and guitar. Then Michael and Maz sing two-part harmony along with Bob’s guitar riff. Chris joins in on the flute, adding another dimension to the ethereal vibe. After the “free improv” section where Justin, Maz, and Bob play the most audible and frequent contributions, Bobby pillages the venue with his almighty organ. He’s hot right from the start…he gets some very lyrical phrases out into the open and displays his amazing technique with some big swells and fierce chromatic runs! Michael and Louis throw in some tasty fills to spice up the vamp. The tune ends with Michael and Maz singing over Justin’s Rhodes accompaniment. As the crowd cheers, Michael introduces Bobby.
Bad Kids to the Back – The force is STRONG with this rendition! Louis and Michael set up a killer groove, and the keyboardists add their chordal stabs on cue. The horns slay the melody…Maz and Justin sound especially bright and clean in the mix. Everyone is sitting in the pocket. Then the roles change: Michael, Bob, and Shaun play the dual lead while the horns add chordal stabs. Justin takes a rare trumpet solo and channels his inner Miles Davis with some killer bebop licks and diverse note selection. The audience claps along and Louis drops out, leaving Michael and Bob to handle the vamp. He returns momentarily and plays a funky reggae-type groove with the kick drum on every second and fourth beat. After the solo, Bob and Shaun duet. Louis brings it home with a spectacular drum showcase. He builds from using just hi-hat and the drums before adding more cymbals to the mix. After the outro, Michael introduces Justin and Louis.
Tarova – Justin kicks it off with the Prophet synth chords. Bobby and Shaun bring the goods with the organ and talkbox. Louis adds a stack backbeat and Marcelo adds some nice touches with the timbales and metallic percussion. We get a standard run through the melody and the bridge before Chris lets loose. I mean, he really honks here…he’s totally unchained. Chris starts with a series of long tones before freaking everyone out with some unbelievable shredding – he even leaves the home key of G-minor and explores other keys that even I can’t pick up on right away. Everyone drops out except for him and Louis. Then everyone hops back on the bus for the outro (without the percussion feature). Bobby bends the last note on the clavinet.
Thing of Gold – This track opens with Justin’s famed Rhodes chords and Chris’s sax intro. Louis establishes a midtempo afoxê groove and Marcelo plays the cowbells for good measure. Then Shaun delivers the solo melody. Next, Bob and the horns exchange some lovely pentatonic counterlines. When the band hits the solo section, they play the “Don’t Stop the Music” vamp under Maz’s flugelhorn solo. Maz sends out another lyrical, well-crafted solo with plenty of highs and lows for everyone. Bobby brings the funk with his clavinet, and Bob adds some great textural rhythmic chopping. When the coda arrives, Shaun goes in for the kill with his virtuosic Moog skills. Once again, he navigates the ascending chord progression with ease and enthusiasm…and plenty of pitch bend and modulation! The audience roars as the last notes fade.
Tio Macaco – Marcelo slaps the timbau and the audience immediately claps along. Once the baião groove is ready to go, Chris enters with the flute melody. Maz and Justin follow his lead, and Michael adds some rhythm and color with his krakebs. Then the bass drops, and the chordal instruments keep the tonal foundation rooted. The horns weave their way through the solos: first Chris trills on the flute, then Maz and Justin wail on the trumpets. The groove is a bit slower than usual, but it still feels good. Finally, the percussionists step up to the plate. Marcelo begins riffing on the hand drums as Louis lays down a solid backbeat. Then they trade some quick phrases before Marcelo moves to the mounted percussion rig. Marcelo gets going fast with the timbales and metallic percussion. The feel shifts to 12/8 meter and then back to 4/4 baião. Then Louis shreds on his snare drum before ending the solo. The crowd gives a huge ovation, and Michael introduces the percussionists. This is a fun, bouncy rendition!
Shofukan – Bob plays the famous guitar opening as the fans cheer wildly. We get another standard opening, and Justin plays the beautiful trumpet opening. Shaun hypes up the fans (“Since they wanna party, let’s party! Say HEY!”) right before another trumpet solo from Justin Stanton. Justin blows for three minutes, building from some gently phrased melodies up to some rapid-fire descending runs. The rhythm section locks together and keeps the momentum going strong. After the band reaches the outro, the fans sing along with the horn chorus and then by themselves. Bobby adds some rock-and-roll guitar riffs with his overdriven clavinet. The band plays one last powerful chord before leaving the stage. They return shortly for an encore.
What About Me? (Encore 1) – Snarky Puppy launches into this classic from We Like It Here. They slow it down for the first verse. Bob delivers the melody while the horns add some nice harmonies underneath. Chris plays the sax interlude with a heavy reverb effect. Then Michael introduces Bob Lanzetti, who gets an extended spotlight. Everyone leaves except for Bob and Louis. Bob begins with some spacey, resonant chords before switching on the distortion and riding the feedback. The other members layer in just before the “prog-rock” outro. After Michael introduces the band and crew over the synth bass vamp, Louis crushes it with an absolutely filthy solo. The band stretches the last chord for nearly an entire minute. Michael thanks the crowd…but inevitably, Snarky Puppy comes back for a second encore!
Lingus (Encore 2) – Shaun becomes the choir director for the audience as the horns play the melody. It’s another standard but fun opening, with some great interplay between the horns, guitars, keyboards, and percussion. Chris and Maz trade fours over the bridge vamp. Once the solo section pulls up, Bobby steamrolls with a dynamic, fuzzed-out clavinet solo. It’s full of the typical tricks from Bobby’s playbook…but at one point, I swear he quotes “Flight of the Bumblebee!” A rather unexpected but amazing move. After a call-and-response between Bobby and the horn section, the band hits the last chord and Michael says goodnight to the cheering crowd.
Like most international Snarky Puppy shows, this one has a great energy and a diverse selection of tunes. You can also hear how the band feeds off of the festival crowd’s energy, and vice-versa. There’s not much else for me to say…the music really speaks for itself here! My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Bigly Strictness,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Tarova,” “Tio Macaco,” “What About Me?,” and “Lingus.”
- 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.