Snarky Puppy has announced their return with thunderous authority, unleashing a brand new studio album Culcha Vulcha for the first time in eight years on April 29. In the interim period, the band, (who this writer found at an early Bear Creek festival side-stage) has pretty much set the bar for what is possible when an enormous crew of progressive minded virtuosos set about a mission with collective focus. The seven, full-length live albums released over the last five years point to a prolific genius, among the most versatile bands in the universe. This is a group that cannot help but create dope, invigorating music; a regenerative process that has them back at the drawing board the moment they complete a record or tour.
Originally connecting at the jazz program on the fertile grounds of the University of North Texas at Denton, the band stayed true to their hustle by recording Culcha Vulcha in their home state, at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX. The de-facto captain of this mammoth sea monster is bassist and principle composer Michael League, yet each of the other sixteen soldiers in the Snarky army brings a specific style and important contribution to the pup-gumbo. Their incredible vision and pristine execution has been rewarded by a rabid, steadily-growing touring following; and no less than two Grammy Award wins over the past two years. Their core sonic thesis is to attack and massage a multifaceted rhythm or groove, and then take it for a roller-coaster joyride through the minds, hearts and souls of a plethora of horn players, guitarists, percussionists and keyboardists, eventually arriving at a tremendous slab of nu-jazz, steeped in tradition yet channeling glories found deep inside new beginnings.
Snarky Puppy has knack for tastefully introducing worldly traditions and authentic styles to their tunes. The journey begins at “Tarova,” finding the band in the Far East rhythmically, their ample percussion egging on some Deep Southern fireworks; we end up somewhere near Washington DC. Brazilian aromas power “Semente,” head-honcho League’s bass lines negotiating the well, far beyond twenty-thousand namesakes. Later, during the rambunctious “Grown Folks”, the brass heads and boogie grooves holler out to a new French Quarter with an intoxicating Second Line head, while the band cooks furiously amidst polyrhythms and sizzling melodies.
Subtle, tasteful electronic soundscapes and an undeniable boom-bap feel inform “Beep Box.” The slow’d & throw’d composition embraces a futuristic ethos dripping in Cory Henry’s kaleidoscope synths, while the colors paint a dark, if mesmerizing canvas. This song is a controlled and focused intention, not unlike the Analog Future Band, but with more jazz feels, sacrificing zero thump. The sparse, vibey groundwork beneath Chris Bullock’s tasty flute licks create a foundation for a yet-unclaimed nation. There’s a clear nod toward beloved afrobeat on “The Simple Life”, yet there’s an aesthetic that reminds one of Fat Mama’s debut record Mammatus, this life the future that Sir Joe Russo and company were hinting at nearly twenty years ago.
“Big Ugly” invokes Groove Collective in their heyday, albeit with more jazz chops and a clearly contemporary fabric. This mammoth song is an emotionally fitting album coda, as so many styles, instrumental voices. vivid colors, and brilliant ideas are on display; delivered to the audience with a panache and seriousness that belies their age. The choice tone in the way the trap kit is mic’d lends a vintage aura to a composition geared toward the next era of progressive music, and the bright future of this simply awesome conglomerate.
Snarky Puppy is an ironclad unified theory, collection of virtuosos who’ve come together as one; traversing this dozen-year mission determined and packing authenticity, the avant garde, and incomparable heat. The music world has been served notice once again, and Snarky Puppy sets the bar the possibilities of what uncompromising art is in 2016.
Listen to Culcha Vulcha below, courtesy of NPR First Listen, until its April 29th release: