Sixteen years ago – at the time of the Immigrance tour in 2019 – Michael League and his friends founded Snarky Puppy at the University of North Texas. On October 5, 2019, the Pups ended the final North American leg of the Immigrance tour at the Bomb Factory in Dallas, Texas, so it all came full circle. For this show, longtime SP stalwarts Mark Lettieri and Shaun Martin sat in with the band. And if that wasn’t enough, Jason “JT” Thomas and Robert “Sput” Searight hopped onstage to play with Jamison Ross & Keita Ogawa on “Tio Macaco.” JT is from Weatherford, Shaun is from Oak Cliff, and Mark and Sput are based in the DFW area. UNT music faculty member Philip Dizack also soloed on “Chonks.” That’s some MAJOR Texas funk!
Embossed – Right from the first notes, the listeners know that this is a special night. Keita Ogawa and Jamison Ross lock into the opening percussion groove on the congas and drum set, respectively. The drums have such a resonant, thunderous sound quality to them. Next, the first verse arrives courtesy of either Bob Lanzetti and/or Mark Lettieri on guitar, and Bobby Sparks adds a sustained drone on the Hammond organ. The horns slide in with their rich, decadent harmonies. Like I’ve said before, a solid horn section dramatically beefs up ANY band’s sound, but this is especially true of Snarky Puppy who have five of the finest horn players on the planet. Michael League delivers a solid syncopated bass line underneath it all…which is REALLY awesome when you realize that he doesn’t play on beat one at all! Shaun Martin adds his distinctive Moog touches in the chorus. For the second verse, Michael changes his bass line so that he constantly plays on beat one. The horn section also continues its run of brilliance, and Mike “Maz” Maher’s trumpet rises to the top. Then one of the guitarists delivers a solid solo. I think it’s Bob Lanzetti, due to the balance of frenzied riffs, sustained tremolo, and heavy feedback & distortion. Bobby adds some funky clavinet stabs and Justin Stanton doubles the bass line on his Prophet synthesizer. The horns play the final tricky run with ease before Bobby and Shaun wail on their Moogs. Keita, Jamison, and Michael serve as the glue holding it all together through the final hits.
While We’re Young – Jamison and Michael lay down the law with a tight groove before Bobby and the horns sing the first verses. Mark and Lanzetti pull a Thin Lizzy move on the audience with some dual-lead guitar action. After the chorus, Bobby’s organ percolates for a bit and the tune comes to a crawl. Then Justin sizzles on the Fender Rhodes. He reharmonizes the solo vamp with several lush chords and develops several lyrical melodic figures that magically fit into every key signature at once. Keita adds color with his metallic effects and bongos, Jamison concocts a propulsive backbeat, and Bobby adds some spice with his clavinet. Chris Bullock and Bob Reynolds shine in the final “shout chorus” with their saxes – they really blend together extremely well.
Bad Kids to the Back – Jamison, Michael, and Bobby are off to the races! The horn section matches the rhythm section’s energy. Shaun, Mark, and Bob Lanzetti keep the fire burning with some funky comping. Next, Maz plays a razor-sharp trumpet solo. Every single note is crisp, articulate, and crystal-clear. He plays an amazing series of pedal tones and quickly returns to the butter zone with some swung sixteenth-note bebop riffs covering the whole range of the trumpet. The rhythm section layers in as Maz wraps it up. Mark and Bob play the guitar melody in two-part harmony and the horns rejoin the party. Michael also plays an outstanding descending bass fill from 5:42-5:46. Then the horns lay out and Jamison breaks it down with a slick drum solo. He works the cymbals, snares, and kick drum before unleashing some powerful rolls on the toms. The colors on his kit are marvelous…the tiny cymbal stacks and pitched snare drums cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter. It’s a short but dynamic display of Jamison’s rhythmic expertise. The entire band hops back on for the outro, and they nail it. The Dallas crowd roars after the tune ends, and Michael greets the fans. He thanks Breastfist and the Andy Timmons Band for opening the show, and quickly talks about the new album and the seven-month Immigrance tour.
Even Us – Snarky Puppy turns the flame down with this slow, reflective tune. After the opening guitar passage, Shaun Martin plays the melody on the piano. Bobby doubles it the second time through…it also sounds like the organ drawbars are pushed in for a more compressed sound. Bob Reynolds gets a turn with the melody on his tenor sax. Bobby plays some melodic fills, and the verse repeats with Bob’s saxophone melody at the forefront. Chris and Maz harmonize behind him, Shaun and the guitarists keep the ostinato rolling, and Bobby produces some swirling organ chords. Keita drums on his djembe in sync with Jamison’s soft, subtle backbeat. Once the groove shifts, Shaun and Bob Lanzetti play the new piano/guitar ostinato with a heavier feel. Keita plays some rapid rhythms on some jingles or a drum with jingles – I’m pretty confident that it’s an Arabic riq, but not 100% sure. The horns harmonize while Bobby and Justin play the melody on the organ and Prophet. Then Chris Bullock wails on his tenor saxophone. He begins with some sparse ideas (save for one ascending run) using embellishments like flat-9ths and sharp-13ths against the A natural minor scale. In typical Boomtown fashion, Chris builds up his solo, eventually playing some blistering runs and screaming out some shrill notes in the altissimo range. After one last recap, the band bails except for Shaun on piano and the guitarists who play the last eight bars.
Tarova – while Justin plays the opening Prophet chords, Shaun hypes up the crowd before talking business on the talkbox. He and Bobby (on Hammond organ) have a lengthy call-and-response full of bluesy, melodic splendor. Early on – from 0:44-1:02 to be specific – they play the same musical quote in near-perfect unison! Michael supplies the Moog sub-bass and Jamison keeps time on the cymbal stacks. After Shaun and Bobby play the opening melody together, the horns plunge into the pool for a grand old time. The Pups hit the first verse cleanly, and then get down and dirty in the second verse. Bobby’s wah-effected clavinet and Michael’s rumbling bass line contribute to the grittiness of the second verse because they both add some much-needed low-end. Keita and Jamison lock into a tight-as-balls backbeat. During the bridge, Shaun sings in the low register of the talkbox with Michael and the guitarists. Next, Mark takes a guitar solo and shreds it to pieces. Well I’m fairly certain that it’s Mark, judging from all the finger tapping and whammy-bar acrobatics. It’s a wonderful showcase of his vast musical capabilities. After the horns’ transition (with Maz on the wah-trumpet) and brief recap, the music suddenly stops…and then Keita gets a percussion solo! And he really stretches! He builds a sensational solo from the ground up, starting with triplet rhythms on his mounted drums – I hear a snare timbale, a bass pandeiro, and de-tuned bongos – and throwing in a quick but FUNKY groove on cowbells. Then Keita plays some freakish polyrhythms and does some pitch-bending on his de-tuned bongos. WOW! Bobby and Jamison establish a Brazilian-funk clave pattern, and Keita goes nuts over it for a few seconds before Michael cues the band for the outro. The audience goes ballistic as the last notes fade out.
Chonks – Jamison and Bobby tease the intro (to the band’s amusement) before cueing the song properly. Shaun dives in with the melody on the talkbox, and then he passes it to the horn section. To me, it sounds like all four horns are playing – including Justin. Their sound is just so beefy and robust with four horns! Bob Lanzetti and Mark provide some super-edgy comping that is just DRIPPING with funk. After the bridge, Michael introduces the first guest of the night: Phil Dizack of the UNT music faculty. Phil steps up and clobbers it out of sight. He starts with some melodic phrases in the lower and middle registers, leaving tons of space between ideas. Phil plays in the higher register sparingly but to great effect…this helps make his solo more well-balanced. I gotta say that Phil really makes the trumpet speak! A funny moment occurs after the second bridge when Shaun and Bobby mess with the tempo of the clavinet-talkbox riff, forcing the others to adjust or lay out. It sounds like a tape slowing down, and it’s brilliant. The crowd goes absolutely bonkers! I’m sure Michael had a big laugh over that. Then the band re-enters for the final verse and chorus. Shaun also sings on his talkbox: “I can make you dance if you want me to!” Well, at least that’s what I think I hear. During the heavy rock outro, Bobby goes absolutely wild on the clavinet. It’s an explosion of bent notes, heavy distortion, and fabulous blues licks. And as usual, he quotes “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix! Even after the rest of the band plays the final notes of the outro, Bobby keeps playing some insane pentatonic and chromatic runs. The band rejoins for the last sustained chord, and Michael introduces Bobby to the cheering audience. Dare I say it, Bobby has total mastery of the clavinet…and the organ…and the Minimoog…hell, what HASN’T Bobby mastered? Maybe hang-gliding or something like that.
Tio Macaco – Now THIS is a killer version! Chris and Keita warm up on the bass flute and congas before Michael leads the crowd in clapping the two-beat Brazilian baião rhythm. Chris Bullock delivers the melody on the bass flute before the other horns join him. Then the second verse proceeds, with Michael playing krakebs and Jamison laying down a tight drum pattern. Then the guitars and keyboards enter for the solo vamp. The fans get treated to four horn solos: Chris on the C flute, Bob Reynolds on tenor sax, and Maz & Justin on trumpets. The solos are brief, but they’re also quite concise, lyrical, and well-crafted. Chris’s solo is full of pointed articulation and jagged syncopation, Bob explores the whole range of the sax, Maz uses lots of rapid sixteenth-note chromatic blues runs, and Justin plays mostly on the offbeats. After the parallel C major/minor outro, Michael brings out Jason “JT” Thomas and Robert “Sput” Searight. Together, they tear off the roof with a monstrous drums-and-percussion solo with Jamison and Keita. It’s a flurry of crazy polyrhythms, funky backbeats, diverse timbres, and intense grooves. The tempo speeds up, and the guys play the unison outro perfectly! Right on the money! The crowd erupts like a volcano, and Michael introduces all four percussionists.
Sleeper – If anybody’s earned the right to take their time during a song intro, it’s Shaun Martin. And boy, does he milk it: “It’s Dallas, Texas…I’mma take my motherf****** time!” Justin adjusts his Rhodes comping as only he can. I’m sure the rest of the band members got a kick out of Shaun’s extended opening. Shaun finally plays the famous melody on his trusty Moog talkbox and the rhythm section seeps in, crescendoing to the first full verse. Michael’s Moog bass line cuts deep, and Justin adds some 80’s synth chords to the mix. Shaun gets some help with the melody from the guitarists and the horns. Next, the second verse proceeds with Jamison putting the pedal to the metal. Everyone plays the second chorus and builds to a climax before leaving Justin and Shaun alone. During the middle interlude, Shaun uses his talkbox to hype up the crowd and to discuss his Dallas roots: “Dallas is my home, so I gotta represent. I’m Oak Cliff raised! Now I’m here with my brothers from Snarky Puppy, [we] traveled around the world, and now we’re right here…in Dallas, Texas!” When the full band comes back in, Shaun really soars into the stratosphere with some insane Moog fills and a magnificent long tone at the end. He’s clearly feeding off of the crowd’s rabid energy and giving it back to them 120 percent. It’s hard to find high-caliber performers of that nature, but Shaun Martin is one of those rare gems. The audience gives Snarky Puppy a huge ovation and Michael thanks the Dallas fans for coming.
Xavi (Encore) – Michael takes some time to speak about the tour, plug the GroundUp Music Festival, and introduce the entire band and crew. Mason, Rosanna, TJ, Mike, Francis, Matt, and Clare get special recognition. Next, he teaches the audience how to clap the 4:3 “Xavi” polyrhythm, which eventually gels after a few tries. The horns kick off the tune, and the rhythm section keeps the train rolling. Chris plays the first melody on the flute before the guitar delivers the “James Bond spy theme” riff. Bobby turns up the heat with his funky clavinet touches, and the horns play the second melody in unison. It’s amazing how clean the horn section sounds even at the end of a long tour. Then we get a fresh and funky guitar solo from Mark Lettieri or Bob Lanzetti. It’s a pretty straight-forward and modest solo…not a lot of frills and sparkles here. Then in the B section, Bob Reynolds gets another tenor sax solo. There’s just something special about Bob’s clean tone, lyrical approach, and vast knowledge of jazz theory and performance technique that makes his solos so interesting. Not a single note is wasted or played with uncertainty. He always executes with precision, confidence, and unparalleled musicianship. Dare I say it, Bob Reynolds really just might be the most “complete package” in Snarky Puppy. After the B section wraps up, the bridge arrives. Keita does some conga drumming and Chris plays the flute melody while the audience claps the 4:3 polyrhythm. Then Justin Stanton whips out an invigorating, frantic Rhodes solo. The notes bounce around like popping kernels in a popcorn machine. He develops a fun rhythmic motif where he plays on the offbeats and continually displaces that figure. Once again, the audience claps the polyrhythm while the guitars and percussionists lay down the final groove. The horns set up their contrasting melodic patterns, and Mason joins Michael on the krakebs. Finally, the whole band closes the song – and the US leg of the tour – out in grand fashion. Signed, sealed, delivered! As the synths let out a screaming “dive bomb” effect over the last chord, the audience lets out a big cheer. Michael bids the crowd goodnight: “Thank you so much, Dallas! Y’all have a good one.”
Holy cow! This is an awesome show. Snarky Puppy had been touring nonstop for a month and they still delivered a solid show for the hometown crowd. The band’s collective energy and grooviness is off the charts. The music is funky and tight. And on top of that, THREE special guests performed with them! The only other 2019 concert with that many guests is the Orpheum Theatre concert from May 31 with Sput, Cory Henry, TaRon Lockett, and Mike Mitchell on “Tio Macaco” and “Xavi.” Less than three weeks later, a different Snarky Puppy lineup would travel to Europe for another month of concerts throughout Europe. Stay tuned for more reviews in late October! My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Tarova,” “Chonks,” “Tio Macaco,” and “Sleeper.”
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
- Shaun Martin – keyboards
- Bob Lanzetti – guitar
- Mark Lettieri – guitar
- Michael League – bass
- Jamison Ross – drums
- Keita Ogawa – percussion
Chonks – Philip Dizack on trumpet
Tio Macaco – Robert Sput Searight and Jason “JT” Thomas on percussion and drums
- 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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