Snarky Puppy Vo. 1 – Sylva – Music of MICHAEL LEAGUE – Orch. cond. by Jules Buckley – Impulse /Universal CD + video DVD

Probably the top big band performing today.

Snarky Puppy & The Metropole Orkest – Sylva – (nearly 40 musicians plus sym. orch.) Compositions of Michael League/ Orch. cond. by Jules Buckley (Vol. 1) – Impulse!/Universal Classics/Ropeadope B0023119-00 CD + 16:9 PCM stereo DVD *****:

I had never heard of this group before but it turns out they have released eight CDs before this one, and have another new one (Family Dinner Vol. 2) this year (which we will shortly review too). Snarky Puppy is a Brooklyn-based instrumental fusion band led by electric bassist, composer and producer Michael League. Formed in Denton, Texas in 2004, it is a collective of nearly 40 musicians performing on a variety of instruments. Many of them were former students at the University of North Texas.

Michael League really wanted to do an album with an orchestra, and after meeting two of the Metropole Orkest managers they were already planning to make a record together. The setting is in a suburb of Amsterdam (I was surprised everyone was speaking English) and there was a setting with original sculptures of various animals and fake trees and greenery to give a general feeling of a forest. That is because each of the six selections of the suite is about a different forest in which League spent time. His desire was to highlite the stylistic versatility and sense of groove and feeling of the Metropole. League expanded the string section of the orchestra and stacked its low end with bass and contrabass clarinets and low brass. The various soloists in Snarky Puppy are also terrific. The invited audience of about 300 sat in the midst of the fake forest and musicians; League wanted to create “a place where everyone could forget where they were and simply be surrounded by sound.” Each one, (including all the audience members) wore a set of good stereo headphones (provided by Audio-Technica).

I hadn’t really paid much attention to the music CD while I was working at my computer, but the DVD of the 100% live performance is one of the most exciting music events I’ve ever witnessed. No studio effects or overdubs were added later; this is the real thing. It’s a gas from beginning to end, especially if you wear good headphones like everyone performing and listening did. And doesn’t suffer a bit from the negatives of many rock/jazz fusion attempts. I liked this one better than Vol. 2.

TrackList:
Sintra; Flight; Atchafalaya; The Curtain; Gretel; The Clearing

—John Sunier

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