Led by bassist, composer and producer Michael League, the prolific instrumental collective Snarky Puppy formed in Denton, TX over a decade ago. And over the years the collective whose members shuttle back and forth between Denton, TX and Brooklyn and between collaborations with Erykah Badu, Marcus Miller, Justin Timberlake, Kirk Franklin, Ari Hoenig, Roy Hargrove, Snoop Dogg and several others, have managed an incredible amount of success while maintaining the DIY ethos they began with. In fact, the band won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance, for their rendition of Brenda Russell’s “Something” with Lalah Hathaway, and their last album, We Like it Here debuted at number 1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart, where a year after it’s release, the album still charts pretty well.
The collective’s latest album Sylvia is their major label debut and features the act collaborating with the acclaimed Dutch collective, Metropole Orkest, which has worked with Elvis Costello, Tori Amos and John Scofield. The material is a concept album inspired by and dedicated to the forest. As the act’s founding member Michael League explains in press notes, the forest is “at one and the same time innocent, frightening, inspiring, impenetrable, fragile, stoical, a revelation, a shelter, a labyrinth, a temple, a tomb, a sanctuary, a parliament and a prison.” Each of the six movements of the larger composition is about a different forest League has encountered in his life including the forest swamps of Louisiana, the Redwood Forest, and even the gothic fairytale forests of Brothers Grimm fairytales and dreams.
Known for their live shows, the band’s recently released effort Sylvia was recorded and filmed live in its entirety – with the live footage bundled as a DVD “Making Of” documentary that features Snarky Puppy performing the album’s six songs live, including the album’s first single “The Clearing.” Starting with a gorgeous and dreamy orchestrated sequence paired with gently strummed guitar and ends with orchestral percussion – i.e., gong, xylophone and the like, followed by a lengthy section that channels both a cinema soundtrack and jazz fusion that morphs into a funky jazz fusion track that channels several artists including Michael Brecker, The Josh Roseman Unit, The Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, Jaco Pastorius and several others before ending with the cinematic, orchestrated section. What makes the song so interesting to me is that it manages to mesh several different but closely related genres in a breezy, effortless fashion, and while watching the video, parts of the composition feel as though they could have been improvised.