Snarky Puppy made their return to Kentucky yesterday, May 12th, at the Madison Theater for a night of lush, exploratory instrumental music that owed as much to classical composers as it did to modern funk and soul creators. Bringing a nine man squad to the stage, the band uses its many players to create a dense sound that borders on symphonic. Though the size of the band may fluctuate depending on availability of its many members, one thing you can always count on is the presence of main composer and bass player Michael League.

League’s smiling face and funky bass lines are front and center, both onstage and in the musical mix. Leading by example, he pulls himself back a majority of the time, creating space for his many collaborators to take their turns in the limelight. Flanking him on guitar, Bob Lanzetti kept a clean, slinky sound that flowed well alongside the organ work of Shaun Martin and Justin Stanton. Martin, in particular seemed to be feeling the groove, dancing behind his keyboard array and making eye contact with folks in the front rows, individually hyping up spirits while contributing pillowy organ fills to the mix.

The three piece horn section of Mike Maher and Jay Jennings on trumpet alongside Chris Bullock on sax enriched every musical moment they joined in on, with wide open washes of sound counter-pointed by staccato bursts of pure passion. Bullock, in particular, lulled listeners into trance-like states before sounding the alarm and rousing the crowd into a full dance frenzy. While Jason Thomas showed off an intrinsic understanding of both timing and restraint in his work on the drum kit, percussionist Nate Werth was the MVP of the night. His constantly changing fills and patterns took the material on an around-the-world tour, bringing in traditional rhythms and techniques from nearly every culture on the planet, elevating the both the individual piece and the evening as a whole.


The sheer density of Snarky Puppy’s sound is nearly overwhelming to listeners. While splashy organ fans and horn bursts plead for attention the simmering percussive force that underlies it manages to both accompany and lead at the same time.  Even when the ntensity of the songs did simmer down enough for one player to take the foreground, the rest of the players were slowly maneuvering themselves into position for the next charge. The ebb and flow of their continual build and release held the crowd from first notes to last, and when the smoke cleared at the end of their set, fans stood shell shocked but still begging for more.

To kick off the night, Michael League came out to introduce Ground Up label mate, the amazing guitar/bassist Charlie Hunter. Promoting his forthcoming album, Everybody Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth, (a classic Mike Tyson quote) Hunter dazzled the crowd with his ability to play independent bass and guitar lines on the same instrument at the same time.  Though his finger picking technique edges towards jazz at its, core his ability to play talking blues pieces and to just plain rock out at the drop of a hat leaves casual listeners in awe and hardcore music fans frozen in their tracks. With accompaniment by Snarky Puppy’s Bullock on sax, Thomas on drums and Stanton on trumpet, Hunter showed why he regularly plays with a who’s who of musicians.

Check out a gallery of Rex Thomson’s photos from the show below.