It’s been a while since eclectic jazz collective, Snarky Puppy, have taken this long a break between albums. In 2016, the band capped off a ridiculous streak of releases with their first pure studio album in eight years, Culcha Vulcha. The album was a major success for the band, and pushed them in a new creative direction, but that was a necessary change as it felt as if they were getting dangerously close to the point of oversaturation, considering that the 2016 release was their second that year, and their seventh in the last four years.
Since the release of Culcha Vulcha, Snarky Puppy have kept quiet on the new music front, choosing instead to focus on touring, the burgeoning GroundUp Music Festival, and the side projects of the individual band members, of which there have been many.
It’s always exciting when bands whose membership is as large and diverse as Snarky Puppy’s come back from a significant break in recording, particularly when the band has been so well travelled thanks to their extensive touring. If you’ve kept an eye on the social media accounts of the various band members, you will have seen the band’s adventures with all sorts of local musicians in the places they’ve visited on their tour around the world over the last couple of years. Frontman, Michael League, has often spoken about the extent to which those interactions have informed the writing on the band’s new record, Immigrance, due out in March.
The first single from Immigrance debuted this last Friday, and it’s clear just how influential the band’s travels have been from this track alone.
“This track, “Xavi,” is inspired by a beautiful experience we had in Morocco at last year’s Gnawa Music Festival in Essaouira, sharing a week of rehearsal and performance with the country’s most respected guimbre master, @maalemelkasri, and his incredible group of musicians.” – League, via Snarky Puppy Instagram account.
The track is built around this intoxicating ¾ groove, outlined by some of the band’s strongest percussion work in years, and a brilliantly sticky, fuzzed-up guitar and bass riff. The whole thing frequently transitions between the harsh, fuzzy riff, and these gorgeous, smooth jazz piano chords, which keep the sound progressing as the band transition in and out of the four genius solos around which the tune is structured.
Those solos are performed by Zach Brock on effects-laden violin, Bobby Sparks on clavinet and Minimoog, Keita Ogawa on ocean drum, and Bill Laurance on piano. Laurance’s solo might be his most adventurous and captivating on any Snarky Puppy record, moving away from the romantic piano sound for which he is known and straying into smooth jazz/neo-soul territory, with some impressive runs and reharmonisations which lead into, and accompany, the stylishly muted horn line that repeats throughout the track.
The track’s conclusion, however, is its most striking element. The final fuzzed-up guitar and keys melody which brings everything to a sudden halt, plays over this entrancing, overlapping, rhythmic flute and percussion groove, which sounds like nothing the band has done before. If the rest of Immigrance is as eclectic and adventurous as this, then it’s shaping up to be a truly masterful return for the band.
Snarky Puppy is a band ubiquitous with the sound of this new generation of young 21st century jazz musicians, and one that has managed to capture the imaginations of thousands of new, young fans around the world; to see the collective embracing the diversity of musical backgrounds from which their audience come is a brilliantly gratifying lens through which to view Snarky Puppy’s return to recording.
That’s how League described the band’s music on a recent podcast interview: https://www.wbgo.org/post/snarky-puppys-michael-league-takes-us-around-world-groundup#stream/0