Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Charleston, SC, September 23, 2019

While this Snarky Puppy concert clocks in at under 90 minutes, the quality of the band’s performance is exceptional.  This was the band’s first time in Charleston, and they were ready to deliver a killer show at the Music Farm.  This was also Jamison Ross’s first night as the touring drummer since May…with the exception of the Tokyo Jazz Festival in early September! Having Bob Reynolds on tenor saxophone really boosts the horn section, and the percussive duo of Keita Ogawa & Jamison Ross is second to none.  As usual, Michael League does a stellar job of holding everything together.  The fans are loud and proud for the whole show, and the brief but hilarious banter before “Gemini” is worth the price of admission alone.  


Kite – Maz opens this tune with a smooth-as-gravy trumpet melody.  Justin adds the arpeggiating accompaniment on the Fender Rhodes. Listen closely to how Bobby Sparks’s organ playing shines through.  Keita Ogawa also contributes some tasty percussive hits on his metallic objects and shakers.  Their playing is unobtrusive, and it adds the right shimmering, laid-back feel to this tune.   Bob Lanzetti’s clean, resonant guitar chords ring out.  Bob Reynolds and Chris Bullock join Maz for the second melody, and Bobby milks it on the Minimoog.  Chris takes the first solo on tenor sax.  He begins by taking a melodic approach before getting more risky with his tonal and rhythmic ideas.  By the end, it’s a showcase of altissimo and chromatic runs.  After the bridge, Justin follows with a sweet Rhodes solo.  It’s another well-crafted solo that starts small and grows in density and volume.  Michael adds some funky melodic riffs and pops while Jamison and Keita play around freely with the time.  Dare I say it, “Kite” is an underrated hidden gem that really doesn’t get enough love.  It was probably overshadowed by the more successful tracks from We Like It Here, including “Shofukan” and “Lingus.”     

Chrysalis – Jamison and Bobby begin with a syncopated, stuttering funk groove.  Bobby dials up an overdriven clavinet sound before the melody comes in – it sounds like Justin Stanton on Prophet and Bob Lanzetti on guitar.  The saxes join the party for the second verse before the chorus.  Then Bob Reynolds makes his horn sing over the solo vamp.  Like all of his bandmates, Reynolds really takes the listeners on a special journey in each and every solo that he does.  His style is lyrical and no-nonsense.  Reynolds also adds some melodic fills during the outro.  To be honest, it took me a while to warm up to “Chrysalis” but now I truly appreciate how it gets the point across without overstaying its welcome.  Props to Bob Reynolds for writing this one.  

Bigly Strictness – Lanzetti rips into his guitar big time, and Jamison lays down a solid backbeat! The horns deliver the melody in perfect unison, with Chris using the octave pedal for his sax.  Keita creates some groovy conga and bongo patterns beneath it…there’s some nice textural elements in these percussion parts.  After the first verse, Justin roars through his Prophet synthesizer solo.  His synth sounds grittier, and it seems a bit higher in the mix than usual.  It’s a whimsical solo full of brief snippets and liberal use of the pitch/mod wheels.  Bobby adds a syncopated clavinet groove in the back.  Next, Maz uses his wah-effected trumpet and hits some really low, guttural notes before climbing back up.  He alternates between simple melodic lines and hard bop runs without missing a beat…he sure knows how to maintain the momentum of a solo! Maz gets a big cheer after his solo.  Once the Pups hit the final verse, Lanzetti takes a solo over the changes.  He starts out slowly with a pentatonic-based motif, but then he throws different ingredients into the stew.  Soon he’s flying high.  This is the first time I’ve heard a guitar solo at the end of “Bigly,” and it’s very good.

Bad Kids to the Back – Jamison Ross starts this one off at a brisk tempo, and the rest of the rhythm section latches on.  The offbeat stabs by Michael and Bobby (on Hammond organ) are well-executed.  Then the rhythm and horn sections have a melodic call-and-response in the first verse before moving to the chorus.  After sliding to the solo section, Chris Bullock rides again! He builds his solo from a quiet, reflective mood to a bold, blazing showcase of pentatonic blues licks.  In the final verse, Justin and Lanzetti play the dual lead on Prophet and guitar.  Finally, Jamison bends time and space during the closing solo.  He relies heavily on the cymbals and stacks for the first part before venturing into more polyrhythmic territory with the kick, snares, and toms.  Afterwards, the Charleston audience gives the band a huge round of applause.  Michael greets the crowd and thanks House of Waters for opening the show. 

Gemini – As Michael introduces Justin’s tune, a fan shouts, “Show your t*ts, Justin!” Michael delivers a hilarious rebuttal: “Justin will only show you his breasts if you buy every record we have at the merch table.” After the upbeat insanity of “Bad Kids,” we get to hear Justin’s other compositional side with the ethereal “Gemini.”  Michael and Jamison lock into a tight groove, and Lanzetti enters on the slide guitar.  As the vocalists (Michael, Jamison, and Maz) sing, Bobby’s organ bubbles underneath, adding some beautiful texture and color to the music.  In the free improv section, everyone contributes something special: Bobby adds some lovely melodic fills, Maz buzzes on his muted trumpet, and Chris throws in some flute trills.  Justin keeps the chord progression alive with the Rhodes, while Keita puts in trace amounts of sparkling metallic effects.  Then Jamison and Maz have an other-worldly vocal exchange.  After returning to the verse, Lanzetti delivers the melody on slide guitar, and the vocalists come in later.  Then Bobby gives the Charleston crowd a three-minute organ master class.  It’s his first of three keyboard solos, and boy is it epic! There’s plenty of wailing high notes, rapid ascending & descending runs, and billowing chords.  The vocalists close it out in tidy three-part harmony as Justin holds it down on the Rhodes. 

Tio Macaco – Keita warms up with a djembe solo, and Chris comes in with the bass flute.  The other horns (including Justin) play the first verse and chorus before the bassless arrangement begins.  Jamison lays down the Brazilian baião backbeat while Michael clicks away on the krakebs.  The second verse and chorus follow.  Next, the solo section begins and the horn players take some time to wail – Bob Reynolds, Chris, Maz, and Justin play equally brilliant and catchy solos.  Bobby and Lanzetti hold it down with their syncopated, percussive comping.  After the outro in C minor/C major, Keita and Jamison make light work of their drums-and-percussion spotlight.  Both musicians use unique colors and timbres in their setups: Jamison has several snare drums and bright jingles on his cymbals and stacks; and Keita plays the repinique, cowbells, Japanese uchiwa-daikos (“fan drums”) and even a Chinese opera gong! The crowd roars after the final hits, and Michael introduces Keita and Jamison.  

Thing of Gold – Justin plays the famous opening Rhodes chords.  Chris plays the first melody on tenor sax before Bobby preaches from his Minimoog.  It seems like Justin and Lanzetti are aiming for a slightly more raw, gritty sound than what I’m used to hearing on this track.  Then we get a solo most likely from Maz on the flugelhorn, but I’m not 100 percent sure.  It’s a very straight-forward solo…the ideas are more concise this time.  As the band navigates the chord modulations, Bobby REALLY stretches it on the Minimoog! Like…he really goes HAM.  No holds barred.  There’s plenty of modulation, glides, and outer-space filter effects.  But the Bobby Sparks Show doesn’t stop after he wrecks the Moog…nope, he proceeds to take everyone to church with a Hammond organ interlude! A wonderful heat-of-the-moment solo. 

Chonks – How does the band fill in the opening talkbox melody usually played by Shaun Martin? In this case, Maz plays it with his wah-pedal trumpet.  Jamison, Michael, Keita, Bobby, and Lanzetti lay down the FUNK behind him.  The saxes add two-part backing harmonies to Maz’s lead.  The band runs through the first verse and chorus before moving to the bridge.  Once the first solo section arrives, Justin restates the opening melody an octave higher than Maz.  He keeps shouting on the Prophet with the same gritty sound from “Bigly Strictness.” Soon it’s a flurry of bent notes, pentatonic licks, and wild arpeggios.  After the band recaps the verse and chorus, everyone drops out except for Jamison while Michael introduces the band and crew.  To me it’s a rather unusual spot for band intros, but hey it works for them! During the heavy rock outro, Bobby goes absolutely hog wild on the clavinet and even quotes Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.”  I can describe this solo with only two words: breakneck speed.  After a series of crazed pitch bends, one fan shouts, “PLAY IT AGAIN” and Bobby obliges.  As the final chords ring throughout the venue, the fans scream for an encore.   

Xavi (Encore) – The recording fades in during the full horn section entrance, so the first minute must have been chopped.  But the meat and potatoes are still intact.  Lanzetti, Reynolds, & Justin take some contrasting but amazing solos on their axes.  Lanzetti goes for a shred-fest approach, Reynolds gets deeply lyrical, and Justin lands somewhere in between.  The audience also does the 4:3 polyrhythmic clapping during Chris’s flute interlude and the outro.  After the band hits the last chord, Michael thanks the Charleston crowd and reintroduces the band, jokingly referring to Bobby as “Bob Sparks.”  

Boy, does this rotation of musicians sound good! I don’t know if all three “Bobs” ever played together before…will there ever be a Snarky Puppy show with all the Bobs and Chrises? Every show with the four-man horn section (Bob, Chris, Maz, and Justin) is bound to be a romp.  Bobby and Justin definitely steal the show with their amazing keyboard chops too.  This is a great show to check out if you have ninety minutes of free time.  My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Kite,” “Chrysalis,” “Gemini,” “Thing of Gold,” and “Chonks.”

Purchase the Live Recording Here


  • Bob Reynolds – saxophone
  • Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
  • Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
  • Bobby Sparks – keyboards
  • Bob Lanzetti – guitar
  • Michael League – bass
  • Jamison Ross – drums
  • Keita Ogawa – percussion

Sound Crew:

  • Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
  • Michael Harrison – monitors
  • Neil Macintosh- 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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