Snarky Puppy is my favorite band and for me the most innovative and unique sounding over the last 25 years. I got hip to them ‘late’, back in 2013 when they were already barnstorming around the U.S. I had a chance to see them at Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival back in 2010, but somehow didn’t make it. But back on September 12, 2013, I got pulled hard into the Snarky Puppy vortex at a show at Terminal West in Atlanta.
After I left that show not quite sure what I had just witnessed and became fully ‘puppified,’ I started down the YouTube rabbit hole watching every video I could find and getting immersed in every tune. By that time, they already had an impressive musical legacy and their fame only expanded exponentially. The next few albums out, Family Dinner Vol 1, We Like It Here, Sylva, Culcha Vulcha and Immigrance would serve only to increase the complexity of their music and establish them as international stars of the jazz/funk/fusion world.
Like many Snarky fans, we continuously plow through the plethora of live shows they have online at LiveSnarky.com and on nugs.net. Like some fans, I forget how rich their earliest recordings were and so I decided to start from the beginning, in order, to track their evolution and celebrate the brilliance of the music.
This first album, The Only Constant was recorded when the band was still in school at the University of North Texas and recorded these five tune from bandleader, Michael League.
Nowadays, every live Snarky Puppy show is a tour de force and an eye opener for any first-time attendees. None of the tunes on The Only Constant have been performed or recorded on the last several years of touring so it can be like rediscovering the band and its origins.
The roster on this lineup was a little different from 2021’s version but laid the groundwork for what was to come. This first album is a somewhat less thematic than later albums and more open in it’s structure. Here’s my look back, track by track –
Open Forum has a terrific guitar-bass-drum intro before the horns take over as the lead, a trumpet, soprano and tenor combo that immediately makes that distinctive Snarky Puppy sound. Like the rest of the album Open Forum is more jazz oriented featuring many solos starting with Bill Laurance on keys followed by Jay Jennings on flugelhorn. Jay’s solo is longer and particularly jazzy, quickly establishing his bona fides for his future album Scott Ave. Brian Donohoe takes the next riff with a funky soprano solo and then is joined by Clay Pritchard on tenor. Their interplay is quite intriguing playing between each others notes somehow. Of course Brian would go on to success with his own band Progger. After this melee the song reverts back to its opening theme. The ending has a classic Snarky Puppy build to a full dynamic before a more gentle, smooth ending. My interpretation is the structured opening and closing bookend the ‘open forum’ in the middle featuring all the solos.
Hot and Bothered has Michael League taking the bass lead up front with a slow roll drum from Ross Pederson. The horns come in with very slinky slashes. Then there’s a bluesy sequence by Chris McQueen on guitar. Bill Laurance launches an avant-garde jazz solo which evolves into a second half that feels closer to his more recent work. Next up is Clay Pritchard with some silly tenor work accented minimally by drums, piano and bass. You wouldn’t be surprised to see this tune played in a NYC jazz bar. Pritchard builds pace and the full band joins back in before he hands the baton back to another guitar solo and then right back to the head for the closeout.
Precipice has a opening that could fit in any current Snarky Puppy song with a repeat bass line and a spacey synth build. A bluesy guitar riff comes from Bob Lanzetti with the horns laying back a bit. The guitar solo really jams before the horns come hammering in and take over. About 1/3 in there’s a breakdown with a short drum & bass and then Bill takes over again on keys for a bit. The horns then fly over with a fast paced melody. The segue sounds a bit like the ending of What About Me?, a future classic. Michael takes his first bass solo midway with a bit of accompaniment from muted trumpet, drums and guitar. This yields to a really whack, metal-style guitar jam and the pace accelerates (to the Precipice of a cliff?). The guitar and trumpet back and forth in two different styles somehow goes together. This song also in some respects sounds like a progenitor to another future hard hitter, Bent Nails off the GroundUP album, written by Robert “Sput” Searight.
Revisited immediately brings to mind Even Us off the most recently Snarky Puppy album, Immigrance. The contemplative acoustic guitar and keyboard opening from Bob Lanzetti and Bill Laurance is simple yet gorgeous. Jay Jennings plays a sustained note paving the way for the saxophone entry. Jay picks up the lead and continues the slow paced thoughtful melody. The directions changes direction midway and the tempo picks up with the guitar lead. Waves of horns wash over you before a quick return to the eloquent soloing of Bill Laurance on keys, devoid of any accompaniment. The segue to back to the main melody is smooth and elegant and the song closes in a hush.
Oblonganta starts with acoustic bass and piano in a film noir style. Brian on soprano lead is joined in force by the full horn section, in this case a four piece. In some ways, this tune feels like it fits with the current Snarky albums. It again features Bill on acoustic piano with some minimalist low end from Michael. As with much of the album it feels more improvised than arranged, whether or not that is how it actually came together. The piano solo is truly an album highlight and it portends Bill’s future as an individual artist. The next guitar solo by Lanzetti, I believe, shows his pure shredding chops — it has a bit of an Eastern European feel. The segue back to the main theme has Brian on soprano and the first real strong part for Sara Jacovino on trombone close out the album
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