Snarky Puppy – Family Dinner Vol. Two – Ground Up – Universal Music B0024506-00 (CD + 16:9 DVD), *****:

Eclectic fusion big band celebrates music in New Orleans with special guests.

(Michael League – electric bass, ukulele, bass, Moog bass, vocals; Bill Laurence – piano, vocals; Cory Henry – keyboards; Shaun Martin, – keyboards, vocals; Justin Stanton – Keyboards, trumpet, vovals; Bob Lanzetti – guitars; Mark Lettierri – guitars; Chris McQueen – guitars; Jay Jennings – trumpet, Flugelhorn, vocals; Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet, Flugelhorn, vocals; Chris Bullock – tenor saxophone, alto flute, flute, vocals; Robert “Sput” Searight – drums, percussion; Larnell Lewis – drums, percussion; Nate Werth – percussion; Marcelo Woloski – percussion; Candy West – vocals; Peaches West – vocals; Rachella Searight – vocals; with Nola International: Nigel Hall – vocals; Big D. Perkins – electric guitar; Ivan Neville – clarinet, vocals; John Gros – organ; Brian Coogan – piano, vocals; Big Sam Williams – trombone; Khris Royal – alto saxophone; Terence Blanchard – trumpet; Donald Ramsey – electric bass; Jamison Ross – drums; Terence Higgins – drums ; Mike Dillon – percussion; Jason Marsalis – percussion; with guest instrumentalists: Charlie Hunter – 7-string guitar; Jeff Coffin – alto flute, flute, soprano saxophone; Bernardo Aguiar – pandeiro,percussion;  Michelle Willis – pump organ, vocals; Louis Cole (Knower) – drums; Roger Tallroth (Vasen) – parlor & 12-string acoustic guitars; Olov Johansson (Vasen) – nyckelharpa; Andre Ferrari (Vasen) – percussion; Big Ed Lee (sousaphone); Carolina Araoz – vocals; Bah Kouyate-Kone –  vocals; Aminata Dance – vocals; Amos Gohi Baraon; with special guests: Becca Stevens, acoustic guitar, vocals, charango; Susana Baca – vocals; Chris Turner – vocals; Salif Keita – vocals; Laura Mvula – vocals; Jacob Collier – piano, hamonizer, vocals; Carlos Malta – flute, alto flute) Genevieve Artadi (Knower) – vocals; David Crosby – acoustic guitar, vocals)

It’s not always easy to communicate the passion and collaborative threads that define music. There have been several notable concert movies that combine live performances with anecdotal interviews (Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz stands the test of time). But jazz fusion big band Snarky Puppy has taken the genre to another level. The Grammy-winning instrumental band (based in Brooklyn, NY) has a fluid core of musicians (at times, nearly 40 and referred to as “The Fam”), and are renowned for their deep respect for musicians and musical diversity. In 2014, Snark Puppy   released Family Dinner Vol. One. It featured a variety of singer composers. The chemistry was apparent and it garnered critical praise.

Now, Family Dinner Vol. Two follows up on this concept with a second album (CD + DVD). Recorded live in New Orleans (during Mardis Gras), the unique blend of hybrid musical roots and diverse instrumentation is festive and resonant. Becca Stevens gets the party started with a syncopated meter on “I Asked”. The folk undercurrent is expanded in layered instrumentation that incorporates jazz and fusion. There are lush vocals that add to the song’s ambiance. Each artist and interaction with the ensemble is intriguing. Afro-Peruvian singer vocalist Susana Baca teams with 7-string funk guitarist Charlie Hunter for a multi-rhythmic treatment of “Molino Molero”. The infectious percussive framework and a capella finish glows with palpable elegance and texture.

Digging into soul, the heat gets turned up on “Liquid Love” (with Chris Turner”). The inherent passion for music is always present. The global influences are on display. Soro (Afriki) was recorded in NOLA and Africa to accommodate Salif Keita (health issue) and showcases emphatic rhythm and Carlos Malta’s inspired flute. Snarky Puppy always wraps their fusion aura and tenacious percussion around every number. It is difficult to single out highlights…there are so many! “Sing To The Moon” (with vocals by Laura Mvula and pump organ by Michelle Willis) is atmospheric and swells to a dynamic full crescendo (with various instrumental solos) before it’s plaintive ending. Jacob Collier shines on the jazzy, funky “Don’t You Know”. His piano runs are artistic and the cohesive structure is punctuated with horns and reeds, as well as synthesized ethereality. He slows things down in a meditative solo, in a traditional jazz way.

After a revved-up guitar-based funk tune (“I Remember”), the set ends with rock icon David Crosby. Crosby’s affinity for unique chords and melody is still intact. His romantic ode, “Somebody Home” is melodic and wistful and demonstrates that musical passion transcends age and genre. The widescreen DVD contains five additional tracks, including a necessary shout-out to the Crescent City (“Brother I’m Hungry”) with Nigel Hall and NOLA International. The listener is reminded of the funky, joyful soul that permeates the culture of New Orleans. Interspersed among the performances are various interviews that give insight into the inspiration that propels musicians. Some of the players reminisce about families, play some and generally share the common global vision of musicians. The 16:9 color DVD contains a 5.1 mix that brings vibrancy to the complex instrumental and vocal arrangements. Bassist Michael League provides interesting liner notes about the session.

Snarky PuppyFamily Dinner Vol. Two is a treasure!


CD: I Asked; Molino Molero; Liquid Love; Soro (Afriki); Sing To The Moon; Don’t You Know; I   Remember; Somebody Home

DVD (Chapters): The Pied Piper; I Asked; Perspectives; Molino Molero; It Ain’t Always Easy; Liquid Love; Brazil To Bamako; Soro; The Crown; Sing To The Moon; Making Connections; Don’t You Know; Tillery; I Remember; Croz; Somebody Home; Ponteio; Hugs And Love; Kapten Kapsyl

BONUS VIDEOS: Be Still; Fuego Y Agua; Shapons Vindalgo; One Hope; Brother I’m Hungry

—Robbie Gerson