Snarky Puppy show takes it beyond jazz fusion

CorrespondentSeptember 5, 2013 

Snarky Puppy brings its instrumental sound to Raleigh on Tuesday.

COURTESY OF GROUNDUP MUSIC/ROPEA — GROUNDUP MUSIC/ROPEADOPE RECORDS

  • Details

    Who: Snarky Puppy with Hildegunn Gjedrem

    When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

    Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St., Raleigh

    Tickets: $15 ($18 at the door)

    Details: 919-821-1120 or thepourhousemusichall.com

Fans of instrumental fusion band Snarky Puppy will be psyched to know that they’re coming to Raleigh to do a live show. They may also be wondering just how many members will be onstage to perform.

The band can often consist of 25 to 30 members, so even their most diehard fans have to wonder what to expect when they see them live. According to bandleader/bassist/“chief babysitter” Michael League, he always asks the core members, the same members who originated out of the University of North Texas in Denton, to see if they’re available for live gigs. League says they’re playing over 180 shows this year.

“If the original guys are unavailable, I ask other guys on the roster,” says League, fielding questions from his Brooklyn apartment.

But why does a band like Snarky Puppy need so many musicians in its repertoire?

“Because every damn person is really busy,” says League. “We all play with other artists, from Justin Timberlake to Kirk Franklin to Marcus Miller. In order to keep the machine moving, we have to have lots of guys in place, ready to jump on a tour at any given moment. It’s turned into an advantage – having new guys come in and out keeps the music fresh, and makes it grow.”

All it takes is one listen to a Snarky Puppy set, either live or recorded, and the listener immediately knows how much this band prefers to keep things new and interesting. Despite their rep as a jazz fusion outfit, League insists there are a lot more influences floating around when they get together.

“I think we’re less influenced by jazz fusion than people think,” he says. “I still have never heard a Mahavishnu or Return to Forever album from top to bottom. I would say that Weather Report and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters are the only two fusion bands that I have really dug into. Our music would be more accurately described as a combination of Herbie, Mingus, Radiohead, Bjork, Roy Hargrove, Piazzolla, Debussy, Zeppelin, J Dilla – which is probably why people end up using the ‘F’ word to describe it. It’s just a mess of influences in a pot.”

While League may have a problem with a certain “F” word, he and his bandmates do go about making sure their live shows have that other “F” word: freshness.

“We never play a song the same way twice, and we constantly take risks in order to keep the music growing,” he says. “Even after nine years with this band, I’m not sick of any one song. Some shows end up being very improvisational, and some end up being very concise and arranged.”

Snarky Puppy’s mission to keep things different may also explain why they collaborate with such a diverse array of artists. Their latest release, “Amkeni,” has them performing alongside Burundian artist Bukuru Celestin. Earlier this year, the band recorded a live album in Virginia, titled “Family Dinner – Volume 1” (scheduled for release later this month) that includes appearances from such R&B songbirds as Lalah Hathaway and N’dambi. (These releases are all on Snarky Puppy’s own label, GroundUP Music.)

“They have to be great musicians and great people, flexible, motivated, positive, and with a unique voice as an artist,” League says, referring to the criteria guest artists have to abide by. “That’s it. I find that it’s more of an attitude than anything else – non-complacency.”

League is looking forward to him and his Snarky Puppy brethren, whether they are seven or 30, coming to town and engaging audiences in another “F” word. (That word is fun – get your heads out of the gutter!)

“I want them to feel inspired to do whatever it is they want to do,” he says. “Grow as an artist, be a nicer person, whatever. I also want them to leave feeling like real musicians still get together and play real music, without unnecessary technology –I’m looking at you, Auto-Tune – or the constant aim of being the next famous mega-artist. Music is fun. I think that can be easy to forget.”

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