Snarky Puppy always gets a positive reception in Florida, and this audience at the Plaza in Orlando is truly dynamite! Maybe it’s the scores of musicians and music lovers based in Florida…or maybe it’s the fact that Bob Reynolds and Jamison Ross are both from Jacksonville. Who knows? This show also has TWO special guest musicians that are polar opposites, but amazingly gifted in their own ways. Every single band member kills it in this show, but one of my favorite solos of the night belongs to one of the guest musicians. Read on to find out more! House of Waters opened for the Pups.
Semente – Keita Ogawa opens the show with a short and sweet djembe solo. The rhythm section plays the opening hits of “Semente,” and Chris Bullock delivers the flute melody. Justin Stanton provides some tasty comping on the Fender Rhodes. Then Bob Reynolds and Mike “Maz” Maher enter with the weaving unison line. Bob Lanzetti and Bobby Sparks keep the chordal stabs going on the guitar and Hammond organ while Jamison Ross drives the beat along. Michael League’s bass playing remains steady and reliable throughout the tune. All three horns (Chris, Maz, & Reynolds) sound squeaky clean during the bridge…it’s unbelievable! The music dies down before the solo section, and Chris plays another lovely flute interlude. Then Maz blows in the middle. His solo starts out as a dark, moody soundscape in the lower register before it builds up. Soon, Maz is firmly entrenched in the upper register above middle C and playing sixteenth-note rhythms like nobody’s business. The horn has a mellow sound to it, so it’s possible that Maz played a flugelhorn rather than a trumpet. Keita and Jamison nail the percussion break before the final verse and chorus. Lanzetti adds some nifty ascending & descending patterns during the fade-out. Bobby’s organ swirls underneath until the sound is gone.
Chrysalis – Jamison kicks it off with a funky drum groove, and Bobby cranks the overdrive and wah effects on his Hohner D6 clavinet. Lanzetti and Justin double the melody on the guitar and Prophet synthesizer. Keita adds some metallic effects to Jamison’s backbeat. Bob Reynolds adds his tenor sax to the melody before the chorus groove shifts to a half-time, quasi-hip hop feel. Then Reynolds takes a VERY short solo, but as always it’s packed with amazing lyricism and genuine passion. The band hits the final chorus – sans drums – and then cleans up during the outro. One of the shortest renditions of “Chrysalis” that I’ve heard…just under five minutes.
While We’re Young – Michael and Jamison cook up a groove that’s deep in the pocket. Bobby sings on the clavinet before the horns enter. Justin and Lanzetti double the melody again, but this time Lanzetti uses a slide. Next, Justin rolls through the changes on the Fender Rhodes. He starts with pentatonic and diatonic ideas before diving into some experimental reharmonization. Bobby adds some funky clavinet patterns in the background and Jamison plays more freely as Justin’s solo continues. Then the horns return for the post-solo shout chorus. Lanzetti wails on the slide guitar through the outro. A fairly standard version of Maz’s composition.
Chonks – Jamison and Bobby fire up the crowd with the opening of this now-iconic Snarky Puppy tune. Maz uses the wah-effect on his trumpet for the melody. Chris and Reynolds provide a smooth counterline from their saxes. Bob Lanzetti lights it up with a crazy solo with a Southern-rock feel to it…perhaps inspired by the Floridian audience? After a repeat of the verse and chorus, the band transitions to the heavy rock outro in C-sharp minor. Then it’s time for The Bobby Sparks Show! And man, he absolutely trashes his clavinet! It’s a chromatic shredfest that would make Steve Vai green with envy. After a huge reception, Michael greets the crowd and jokingly announces the end of the show: “Maybe we should just leave now.” Then he gives a shout-out to his mother and his grandmother, both residents of Florida.
Bad Kids to the Back – Michael introduces Justin’s tune and talks briefly about the making of the music video. Jamison propels this tune at a brisk tempo while Bobby and Michael lay down the tonal & chordal stabs. Maz, Chris, and Reynolds play the melody with precision and finesse. Lanzetti gets a turn with the melody in the bridge before the horns reclaim it. Then Chris steps up to the mic and stretches. He starts off softly and smoothly – almost in a coy manner – with some drawn-out tones and nice bebop licks. After a minute or so, he increases the volume and density of notes…in typical Boomtown fashion, the solo becomes a showcase of chromatic runs, pointed rhythmic patterns, and shrieking altissimo. Chris shows great control and technique in this solo, as expected! After Lanzetti and Justin play the dual lead, the horns replay the chorus before the rhythm section takes the tune in a new direction. And then…Jamison goes bonkers. Like, literally. Jamison unleashes a monstrous polyrhythmic flurry of notes that is simply incredible! The lick from 7:05-7:15 especially knocked me out…is that some double kick pedal action I’m hearing with offset single-stroke rolls on the toms? DANG! It’s one of the best solos I’ve ever heard from Jamison, hands down. I wish that he would’ve kept playing for another five minutes. Finally, the horns hop back on the bus (bad kids to the back, indeed!) and the Pups hit the outro with confidence and feeling.
Bigly Strictness – Lanzetti plays the opening riff with an edgy, gritty sound. Michael gets things going on the Moog sub-bass, and Jamison lays down a rock-solid backbeat. Bobby and Justin rev up the organ and Mellotron to provide the chordal foundation, and the horns play the melodies with clarity. Keita’s hand drumming (on congas and djembe) is clear for all to hear. Then Justin takes a freaky Prophet solo with sparse pitch-bent notes. Sounds like he’s going for a more ambient feel. He changes the filter and plays some brief melodic ideas before tinkering on the upper half of the Fender Rhodes. Maz uses his wah trumpet effect and hits some growling low notes and resonant highs. He also throws in some of his classic descending chromatic licks. Finally, the band shifts to the Middle Eastern-inspired closing section. Jamison and Keita lock into the groove and the horns come in strong. Then we get another great episode of the Bobby Sparks Show. This time, he goes off on the Minimoog in spectacular fashion. He uses every trick in the book: pitch bends, modulation, arpeggiation, pentatonic blues riffs, and wild glides…all building up to a fantastic climax.
Tio Macaco – the audience claps the two-beat Brazilian baião pattern. Keita sets it up with brushes on the djembe to make a crisp, articulate groove. As with all 2019 shows, this arrangement of “Tio Macaco” is played without bass for the first few rounds. Chris rocks it on the flute before Maz and Reynolds supply some tight harmonies in the first verse and chorus. Michael keeps time on the Moroccan krakebs and Justin adds some melodic fills on the Rhodes. Lanzetti also provides some percussive strumming during the horns’ second verse and chorus. Then Michael returns to the bass and the horn solos follow: Chris trills on the flute, Reynolds wails on the tenor sax, and Maz blares on the trumpet. Unfortunately, Justin doesn’t get a trumpet solo this time. Once the Pups play the C minor/C major outro, Keita and Jamison duke it out. Keita starts with the cowbells and Jamison keeps time with some rim clicks, hi-hat strokes, and thumping bass drum kicks. Keita moves to the repinique and does some pitch-bending on a low-tuned drum. Then Jamison opens up and makes the entire drum set sing, ending abruptly after a blast of drum rolls. It’s a very free solo based on unique musical colors, timbres, and polyrhythms. Throughout the solo, Justin adds some groovy keyboard accompaniment ranging from offbeat chordal stabs to melodic snippets. Finally, the trio sets up another groove before hitting the unison outro. After a big cheer from the audience, Michael introduces Keita and Jamison to the Orlando fans.
Even Us – before this tune, Michael brings out Varijashree Venugopal from Bangalore, India. Bob Lanzetti plays the pensive, melancholy guitar chords and Justin follows with the first verse melody on the Rhodes. Bobby contributes some organ to double Justin’s melody. Varijashree takes a turn with the melody on her flute. For the second verse, the saxes add their voices to the mix, with Varijashree still up front. When the pre-solo section begins, the groove shifts to a hybrid of hip-hop and traditional Indian classical music. Keita adds some cutting jingle effects – perhaps he’s playing an Arabic riq frame drum? Bobby plays some melodic licks on the Minimoog while Lanzetti and Michael keep the bassline alive. The horns also provide some lush backing harmonies. Then Varijashree delivers an extraordinary flute and vocal solo. She begins by playing some beautiful runs before going out on a limb. Then she plays some simpler flute licks and sings them note-for-note. Varijashree starts singing…and it’s like the heavens open up. I think she’s using Carnatic syllables, but no matter what it’s sublime, mind-blowing, and nearly impossible for most people to pull off. One rapid sextuplet vocal passage at 8:03 absolutely fried my brain…how ON EARTH did she do that? After the outro, the audience lets out a tremendous roar. Michael introduces Varijashree and thanks the crowd for coming. After a short pause, he speaks about the new music and the GroundUp Music Festival. Michael also introduces the band and crew members before bringing out another special guest…
What About Me? (Encore) – Roosevelt Collier comes out to play lap steel guitar and the crowd goes crazy. Michael says, “Y’all can do better than that! He lives in Orlando!” The opening and choruses at alternate speeds both go off without a hitch. Bobby, Jamison, and Keita fuel the fire with some impeccably FUNKY timekeeping. Lanzetti gets down with his bad self while playing the power chords and the first verse. Chris, Maz, and Reynolds play the backing hits before they get a turn with the melody. Chris carries the solo melody with help from Justin’s Rhodes before moving to the bridge. Then the Pups turn the flame down for Roosevelt, who fires off a sensational solo. His lap steel guitar has a distorted, twangy tone that sets it apart from every other instrument onstage. Roosevelt whips it out with a barrage of blues licks, bent notes, guttural low notes, and ear-splitting highs. Bobby initiates a funky clavinet groove reminiscent of ZZ Top. Michael and Lanzetti provide some extra support on their guitars, and Jamison shifts from straight-eighths to a swung triplet feel on the drums. He switches back for the final part of Roosevelt’s solo, which is nothing more than a blistering lap steel shredfest. Bobby sustains some chords on the organ while the horns add a repeated melodic figure. Justin and the horns add their stabs, while Keita adds some rhythmic fills on the congas. As Michael plays the final bass groove alone, Jamison closes the show with another mind-blowing drum break. It’s not a breakneck solo like the one on “Bad Kids,” but it’s chock-full of lyrical ideas and powerful technique. He also rests for a few beats, leaving space at just the right moments. After the final outro with the entire band, Michael reintroduces Roosevelt and the other band members before saying goodnight to the Plaza.
While this show features six tunes from Immigrance and not a lot of older material, it is still a fantastic show! I have two favorite solos from this concert: Jamison’s madcap “Bad Kids” solo and Varijashree’s magnificent performance during “Even Us.” A jazz drummer from Jacksonville and a singer/flautist from Bangalore – they’re as different as can be, but regardless they have both produced equally beautiful music for thousands, maybe even millions of people. And let’s not forget Roosevelt’s wonderful solo on the lap steel guitar – it’s always a treat to hear him play! At the end of the day, good music is good music. Do yourself a favor and experience some good music like Snarky Puppy, Roosevelt Collier, Varijashree, and House of Waters. My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Semente,” “Chonks,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Tio Macaco,” “Even Us,” and “What About Me.”
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
- Varijashree Venugopal on vocals/flute on “Even Us”
- Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel guitar on “What About Me?”
- 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.