A Look Back: Snarky Puppy’s The World Is Getting Smaller

The World Is Getting Smaller is Snarky Puppy’s second album, released in 2007, and it’s the first that has some bona fide ‘hits’ that are still being played live today including Intelligent Design and Alma, which were both resurrected for the Immigrance Tour in 2019. The title track has also been played live but not in the last few years. The album really shows the early development of the signature Snarky Puppy style with unusual time signatures and changing melodic arrangements.

The second studio album from Snarky Puppy, The World is Getting Smaller features two live drummers (Rob Avsharian and Steve Pruitt) panned left and right (as well as a guest appearance from master percussionist Jose Aponté), and marks a compositional departure from The Only Constant. It was recorded as most of the band was leaving college at the University of North Texas in 2007.

The lineup for this album is largely the same as their first album, The Only Constant. Only about half of the players remain as Snarky Puppy regulars including of course Michael League, Chris McQueen, Jay Jennings, and Bob Lanzetti.

Several of the other players have gone on to other ventures.  Brian Donohoe founded and leads the band Progger who have some great releases. Sara Jacovino now plays trombone in NYC for a lot of big bands. Jose Aponte is a teacher at UNT, where it all started.  All the tunes were written by Michael League except ‘Thorn’ and ‘Briar’ written by Donohoe and ‘Fair Play’ written by McQueen.

Track By Track

Native Sons is one that I don’t think has been played live in quite some time.  It starts with some nice triangle percussion from Nate that carries out through most of the tune.  It has a particularly strong opening base line at the core and then draws in some solid horn work and bass plus guitar call and response. The horn clarion definitely signals the Snarky sound of the future. Brian Donohoe has a solid sax solo midway through.  There’s a little intro that always sounds like “Eleanor Rigby” for me.  The rest of the solo is quite jazzy with smoothness and dissonance. He’s got great skill with a great range.  The rest of the band punches back in afterwards with more terrific horn section work before returning to the main theme.  Definitely could see this being well played by the current lineups.

I did manage to find a solid live version from 2011 on YouTube. John Ellis takes the main, second sax solo following Chris Bullock who takes the first. The live version features some more of the recent lineup – Sput, Bullock, Keita, Justin, Maz and Cory Henry! – nice to watch.

Intelligent Design was played live about a dozen times during the Immigrance tour in 2019 and had also been played some on the 2015 tour. For me, it’s now a favorite live. It starts with a keys rhythm which carries out throughout much of the tune.  The way I hear it, the drums are the most melodic of almost any Snarky Puppy tune and perhaps define the uniqueness of the song. When the guitar and horns enter with the main theme, I can’t help but hear a Star Wars-like space travel tune.  The soprano sax solo by Donohoe is both scattered in in sync with the rhythm simultaneously. The break when it’s just him and Rob Avsharian on drums is terrific. The bridge simulates deep space exploration (again) with a great echoey guitar rip. Nate Werth is all over this tune with frenetic percussion. The end zooms off into pure chaos before settling back to the keys fade out.

Alma is another oldie that was brought back on the Immigrance 2019 tour.  It’s more linear than Intelligent Design and has has some fine horn work throughout and some crispy funk guitar from McQueen.  Midway Clay Pritchard takes an excellent, extended tenor spin.  The horns blend in smoothly with some fine percussion work from Nate and Rob right up to the middle where there’s a shaker percussion ‘solo’ by Jose Aponte.  Guitar comes back in with the head joined by Michael League on bass and Kait Dunton on keys.

Thorn has a bass keys intro with some low end horn-work. This is the only album that has trombone and bass clarinet and that makes it distinctive on its own.  There’s  a nice fusiony sax duo lead on the horns and the early part is carried by the horns. There’s some sax and trombone trading midway that’s a cross between bop and NOLA jazz.  The extended section is perhaps a progenitor of Quarter Master that appears on the subsequent groundUP recording.  Thorn is a little reminiscent of some early Brecker Brothers tunes.

The World Is Getting Smaller is perhaps the most trumpet dominant tune ever from Snarky Puppy. Jay Jennings starts with a great solo opener before the full band comes in with a samba sounding tune. There’s a nice Western guitar riff that reintroduces Jay on trumpet and then it shifts to Sara Jacovino on trombone to drive it forward. The pulsating horn restart segues again into a wonderful Jay trumpet solo quickly joined by the pounding drum and bass march.  I can’t say for sure but this solidifies Jay’s presence in the band for all-time. He carries the tune right up to the end and closes with a solo until….the song restarts at a much slower tango-like tempo for a surprise ending.

Man this was so long ago. I can't remember if I was still enrolled in class at UNT or not but I remember still living in Denton, TX. We were all there. I also remember stressing over the title track "The World Is Getting Smaller" which Mike League had written for me. There was this little triplet figure that was giving me hell. It was basically the beginning of me feeling like I needed to step up to the challenge in the studio. Since then, I have had several similar challenges presented to me by Mike League in the studio and he continues to keep throwing me curve balls. But I truly enjoy the challenges his writing brings to the table. It makes me bring my "A" game."
Jay Jennings

Briar begins with bass and percussion with a horn-heavy melody ensuing.  There’s some nice bouncing back and forth between the left and right channels before a single main horn serenade.  Early on, there’s a pensive Nord solo from Kait Dunton in a very Return to Forever fashion.  The horns pitch in and Briar is very indicative of the band’s early jazz roots back and UNT.  There’s a a brief bass-guitar duo before Jay comes on strong with another lengthy trumpet lead. The rest of the horns come back in full force. Guitar and bass begin a battle with the percussion section right up to the end with Kait coming cosmically rejoining with the horns to close out.

Phoebus is one of the Greek Olympian gods.  It begins with sax and trombone starting out like they’re sound checking before someone says “Sorry” and the tune kicks off fast.  There’s some very deep bass and some pulsing horn work but this one is definitely defined by the bass work making it kind of a jazz-funk tune.  Donohoe takes a quick alto solo and then there’s consecutive handoffs to each horn player. The intertwined horn work is very clever and fun. It seems rambling but then resynchronizes, in a now signature Snarky Puppy maneuver.  The main theme is joined by the high powered horn section right up to the finish.

Fair Play has a sweet, calm-sounding opening with horns and marked by the distinctive congas of Juan Alamo. Like several of the tunes on TWIGS it has a Spanish flair. Michael League, the songs composer has some beautiful bass sections here and Bob Lanzetti has a terrific guitar solo on the right channel here, his longest on the album. It’s probably the defining feature of the tune. After a brief percussion break, Bob picks it up right to the gorgeous ending with the main theme. 

Liner Notes and Personnel

JAY JENNINGS trumpet and flugelhorn
CLAY PRITCHARD tenor sax and bass clarinet
BRIAN DONOHOE alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet
KAIT DUNTON nord electro 2
CHRIS MCQUEEN electric guitar on all tracks (left)
MICHAEL LEAGUE electric bass
STEVE PRUITT drum set on all tracks (left)
NATE WERTH percussion

BOB LANZETTI electric guitar on 1-7 (right)
ROB AVSHARIAN drum set on I, 2, 6, and 7 (right)
JOSE APONTE drum set on 3 and 5 (right), shaker on track 3, cajon on 8
JUAN ALAMO congas on 8