Eclectic, funk-pop, jazz quasi-collective Snarky Puppy is about to inject some soul into Ann Arbor.
The band itself was formed in the college town of Denton, Texas while members were attending the University of North Texas.
“I was writing music that sat somewhere between jazz, pop, and God-knows-what, and asked 9 of my friends to play it with me every week,” wrote Michael League, bassist and bandleader for Snarky Puppy, in an email interview. “Things really just snowballed from there.”
Now based in Brooklyn, the group has evolved to grace the international landscape with its innovative sound.
“I find inspiration in many, many different musical traditions from around the world,” League wrote. “Each one teaches me something different. Piazzolla tells me to wear the emotion on my sleeve. Sufjan Stevens tells me never to show it. Stravinsky tells me to explore the entire universe of harmony. Ali Farke Touré tells me that two chords is all you need (if that). The whole universe of music is constantly offering you food if you’re hungry for it.”
With strands of everything, nothing and yet-to-be-discovered melodies, Snarky Puppy rests in profound instances of utter originality, separating them from other contemporary instrumental groups.
The band is big (both literally and figuratively), consisting of instrumentalists Michael League (bandleader, composer, bass), Bill Laurance (keyboards), Justin Stanton (trumpet, keyboards), Shaun Martin (keyboards), Cory Henry (keyboards), Bob Lanzetti (guitar), Mark Lettieri (guitar), Chris McQueen (guitar), Mike Maher (trumpet), Jay Jennings (trumpet), Chris Bullock (tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet), Bob Reynolds (saxophone), Nate Werth (percussion), Marcelo Woloski (percussion/drums), Keita Ogawa (percussion/drums), Robert “Sput” Searight (drums), Larnell Lewis (drums) and Jason “JT” Thomas (drums).
An eccentric force of sound, Snarky Puppy recently won their third Grammy in February, taking home “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album” for their 11th record, Culcha Vulcha. Their music has no concrete destination, yet it hits every dot on the map. Spontaneous, carefully practiced, huge and miniscule all at once, their sound is one like no other.
“We never expect to win awards because we were unknown for so long. Although it doesn’t make you a better band, it creates new possibilities creatively. People trust and value you more, so the crazy ideas that we’ve always had in our heads can actually become reality. That’s what I’m most grateful for,” League wrote.
Propelled by their deserved recognition, the group isn’t afraid to take chances. They use their live performances as a time to delve into what makes their music so invigoratingly distinctive.
“One of my favorite things about Snarky Puppy is the way in which we improvise as a group,” League wrote. “The same song can be almost unrecognizably different from night to night based on a single thing that a single player contributes in a single moment. Everyone’s ears are open, receptive to the subtleties floating around the stage from each individual player, but without disrespecting the essential content of the composition itself. This allows us to consistently deliver the emotional content of the songs each night while allowing the music to grow and breathe, creating a unique musical experience each night (for better or worse!).”
League’s personal favorite songs to perform live are, “the ones that have the strongest melodies,” he wrote. “‘Shofukan,’ ‘Thing of Gold,’ ‘Sleeper,’ ‘Flood’–– tunes like that. I feel that a good melody never gets old.”
Deeply passionate about their work, the group has an undeniably genuine nature. They understand their roots and challenge themselves out of a pure love for what they do.
“The band started much more acoustic, much jazzier. We were white college students from the suburbs who had grown up in garage rock bands and got swept away by jazz,” League wrote. “I think this is evident in our first few albums. But when we started playing on the predominantly black gospel/R&B scene in Dallas (and when people like Bernard Wright, Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, Shaun Martin and Bobby Sparks joined the band), the sound of the band changed dramatically. It got funkier. We started focusing more on groove and melody rather than complex harmony. But I think the most important change was that we became more communicative, and consequently, more accessible to audiences.”
Fearlessly exploring the limitlessness of their own abilities, Snarky Puppy is set to share their passion with Ann Arbor this Thursday, March 16, at Hill Auditorium.