Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Antwerp, Belgium, November 4, 2019

In this concert Snarky Puppy finds its rhythm after Chris McQueen’s departure and Jamison Ross’s arrival.  The audience at De Roma in Antwerp, Belgium is super receptive to the new tunes as well as the standards.  This lineup features an expanded horn section, as well as the rare pairing of Jamison Ross with percussionist Marcelo Woloski.  It seems to me that because of each member’s gigging schedules, Marcelo usually plays with Jason “JT” Thomas and Keita Ogawa gets teamed with Jamison Ross for most Snarky Puppy shows.  But of course, it’s purely by coincidence and they could work equally well with just about anybody that hops on board.  (Refer back to the summer 2019 European leg where Marcelo worked with Louis Cato!) The lovely Ms. Sirintip was the opening act.  

Track-By-Track

Chrysalis – Jamison Ross opens the show with a dirty funk groove while Shaun Martin dials up the clavinet patch.  Justin Stanton and Mark Lettieri play the dual melody on Prophet synth and electric guitar, respectively.  Michael League contributes some rock-steady bass playing.  Next, the horn section joins in on the melody before the hip-hop chorus in B-flat major.  Bob Reynolds warms everyone up with a fine solo.  It’s warm, rich, syncopated, and full of great melodic ideas.  Jamison adds some offbeat cymbal hits to fuel the fire before the final verse and chorus.  Some resonant guitar arpeggios emerge during the chorus, thanks to Mark’s expert technique.  A heavy echo can be heard on the high drum hits in the outro – perhaps it’s a timbale or micro-snare?  

Semente – Marcelo Woloski sets it up with a fantastic percussion solo.  He combines various elements of his setup including the bombo, timbale, snare, tamborim, cowbells, and cymbal stacks.  After a free-form solo, he jumps into the Brazilian samba backbeat before cuing the opening. Chris Bullock’s flute melody and Shaun Martin’s piano accompaniment are both on point.  Bob handles most of the saxophone playing here, and Mike “Maz” Maher’s trumpet compliments the other two horn players’ lines.  As usual, the intricate melody is played with precision and confidence.  As the chorus ends, Chris plays the flute interlude before Maz takes charge with a weaving, lyrical solo.  It has a mellow tone quality that for some reason reminds me of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue era.  Shaun adds some reharmonized chords on the piano while the rhythm section lays down a solid foundation.  The crowd gives a big cheer for Maz after the solo wraps.  Marcelo and Jamison bring the heat with their coordinated drum break, and the Pups take it out with ease.  Maz ramps it up by playing the final melody in the upper register of the trumpet.   

While We’re Young – Michael and Jamison ease in with the laid-back opening.  Shaun talks business on the talkbox, replacing Bobby Sparks’s clavinet intro.  Chris, Bob, and Maz enter in perfect harmony before Mark and Justin sing the melody together.  Once the solo vamp begins, Justin steps up with his Fender Rhodes electric piano.  After some sparse chords, he builds up his solo with some melismatic phrases.  The shout chorus and outro proceed normally, concluding a pretty average version of this track.  Mark shines during the outro.     

Intelligent Design – After a quick breather, Justin delivers the offbeat synth chords.  Michael, Marcelo, and Jamison conjure up an awesome groove for Mark and the horns to play over.  Chris whips out the bass flute, and Maz uses a mute for his trumpet.  Then Chris switches to tenor sax for the first solo, which is fairly short but still remarkable.  As usual, it’s full of fiery chromatic runs and shrieking altissimo.  The three things that are certain in life are death, taxes, and fantastic Chris Bullock saxophone solos! Once the G minor bridge begins, Mark Lettieri goes to town with a sweet-and-sour solo…moving from smooth licks to insane lines in the blink of an eye.  The band drops out except for the keyboardists, and Jamison puts a bow on it with a brilliant drum spotlight.  He works his way around the kit, using every inch of it to his advantage.  Nothing gets left out: the kick drum, cymbals, stacks, snares, and toms all get a voice here.  The horns come back in for the final melody, and Shaun adds some modulated Moog for good measure.  Michael greets the roaring crowd and gives a shout-out to Sirintip for opening the show.   

Bigly Strictness – This one gets served up piping hot! Mark’s guitar sizzles, Jamison’s drums percolate, and Michael’s Moog sub-bass pulses underneath.  The horn section wails away, with Chris’s octave-sax effect in full bloom.  Maz bursts forth with a brief but VERY jazzy trumpet solo – no effects here, this one speaks for itself! Next, Mark shreds over the B solo section and adds a delay effect.  Jamison lays down beats 2 and 4 like nobody’s business.  When the final solo section arrives, Marcelo plays the timbau to mimic a Middle Eastern frame drum.  Shaun Martin gets his first proper solo and raises the roof with a wild-and-wooly solo.  He experiments with cutoff frequency, pitch bend, and various filters to add another dimension to his melodic improvisation.  Justin and Mark provide the necessary chordal support throughout.  The horns return for the final melody over the outro and Shaun milks the last note for all it’s worth.     

Bad Kids to the Back – The rhythm section gets things going before Maz, Bob, and Chris deliver the first verse.  Mark and Michael add the offbeat guitar stabs while Marcelo jams on the bongos.  Shaun and Justin handle the keyboard/synth lines with ease.  Then Bob starts a smashing solo.  He works his way from sparse pentatonic blues riffs to blistering runs, all while staying true to the tune.  Bob even glides from a B-flat to an F (in tenor sax transposition) effortlessly from 4:31 to 4:47! Afterwards, Mark and Justin tackle some two-part harmonies before the horns carry the band to the next solo vamp.  Finally, Jamison crushes his drum solo with some swift, dexterous technique.  The audience goes bonkers, and rightfully so! 

Palermo – This classic Snarky Puppy tune begins with some haunting synth chords.  Marcelo sets up the Argentinean chacarera rhythm while the others gradually come in, making fuller layers of sound.  After the opening groove, Maz plays the contemplative melody, which rings through the venue like a bell.  The second time around, Chris joins in on flute and Bob adds his saxophone to the mix.  Mark’s serpentine guitar arpeggios weave underneath it all.  The transition to the solo section goes off without a hitch.  Chris picks up the tenor sax and crushes the solo with no hesitation.  He starts off strong with some pentatonic fills before hurling out some lightning-quick ascending and descending runs.  The solo ends after a minute and a half, and the spotlight goes back to Marcelo and Maz.  Justin keeps things afloat with some lovely Rhodes chords.  Mark and Shaun (on organ) deliver the final melody while Jamison tosses in some colorful cymbal swells.  The music fades out as Marcelo begins an intricate percussion solo and the audience claps to the chacarera rhythm.  And man, it’s some TIGHT clapping! After a huge round of applause, Michael introduces Marcelo and Chris to the audience.  

Chonks – Shaun immediately gets down and dirty with the Moog talkbox.  Mark doubles the melody with a gritty guitar sound, and Jamison and Michael funk things up.  The horn section harmonies are crisp and clear, as are their melodic lines.  Justin takes the Prophet for a spin, and blows more than a few minds! He begins with a staccato rhythm on one pitch (similar to “One Note Samba”) before turning up the flame with some trippy pitch bending and fast chromatic & pentatonic runs.  After Justin’s solo, Shaun dials up the clavinet rather than the talkbox.  He and Mark keep the tune going steadily rather than slowing it down (a rare occurrence which I really enjoy hearing in live recordings).  Jamison plays some rapid single-stroke sixteenth-notes just before the C-sharp minor solo vamp.  Chris, Maz, and Bob sing the melody loud and proud.  And then Mark unleashes a steamroller of a solo! It’s brief but mighty, and a perfect way to end the tune.   

Shofukan – Mere seconds after the synth-heavy ending of “Chonks,” Mark plays the iconic opening chords of “Shofukan.” Justin joins the horns and nails the opening trumpet solo.  Shaun handles the Rhodes and Moog keyboard parts with no problem, and then he turns into the hypemaster: “Well, I guess it’s party time!” He gets the crowd to do the “HEY” chant in time with Mark’s guitar stylings and Jamison’s driving backbeat.  And then…A BASS SOLO! Yes, it’s that time again, friends! Michael League takes some time for himself in the limelight.  And boy, does it sound fantastic.  It’s lyrical, smooth, funky, and raw all in one package.  Jamison switches to a straight-ahead rock groove after a minute and change, which gives the solo an entirely different feel.  The keyboards layer in, and Marcelo adds some loud stick clicks and metallic effects.  The tempo speeds up a hair before the final chorus.  Chris, Maz, Bob, and Justin play their hearts out and Shaun fires up the crowd: “Come on, balcony! SING YOUR ASS OFF!” Soon, everyone in the venue is singing at the top of their lungs, right up to the final notes.  Michael thanks the fans and says goodnight.  But the fans can’t let it go and they begin to sing the “Shofukan” melody, demanding an encore.  Michael comes back out and speaks about the Immigrance tour and the GroundUp Music Festival in Miami Beach, Florida.  Then he introduces the band and crew.   

Xavi (Encore) – Michael teaches the 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson to the crowd before launching into “Xavi.” Chris plays the flute melody over a supportive bed of percussion and bass.  Mark delivers the “spy theme” transition into the first verse.  Once again, the Snarky Horns prove that there’s nothing they can’t do…the melody is played with astounding finesse and technique! After the chorus, Bob Reynolds comes on strong with a majestic tenor sax solo.  The notes flow out from his instrument and his body like water in a river.  It’s mind-boggling to me! Another home run for Team Snarky! For the second solo vamp, Shaun takes a rare Hammond organ solo and trashes it! Like Mark’s “Chonks” solo, it’s brief but mighty.  There’s plenty of bluesy riffs, glissandos, and drawbar action to satisfy any diehard organ fans out there.  Next, Marcelo slaps the hand drums while the audience (led by Michael) claps the 4:3 polyrhythm.  Chris plays the flute interlude with Michael’s stalwart bass notes behind him.  Then Justin brings it home with a manic Fender Rhodes solo.  Like Bob’s earlier solo, the notes are flying! And as expected, Justin brings in some reharmonization alongside some inspired melodic ideas.  Finally, Snarky Puppy delivers a high-octane outro to the delight of the Belgian fans.  Michael says goodnight one last time as the crowd gives the Pups a tremendous ovation.   

This is another very enjoyable concert.  To me, it doesn’t have as much energy and fire as other earlier fall 2019 shows in Europe (Aarhus and Utrecht were remarkably fun to listen to), but it is still really good.  Michael also gets a rare moment to show off his virtuosic bass technique, so that’s definitely the highlight of the night for me.  My selected standout tracks would be “Semente,” “Bigly Strictness,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Palermo,” and “Shofukan.”

Personnel

  • Bob Reynolds – saxophone
  • Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
  • Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
  • Mark Lettieri – guitar
  • Michael League – bass
  • Jamison Ross – drums
  • Marcelo Woloski – percussion
  • Shaun Martin -Keyboards

Sound Crew:

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

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