Artist Spotlight: Snarky Puppy embodies modern jazz fusion

Snarky Puppy gives immense hope to fans of a niche genre which is saturated with technical snobs and avante-garde highbrows. (Twitter/@RealSnarkyPuppy)

It’s almost never played on the radio. It sure as hell doesn’t have the same kind of celebrity star power as Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake and it’s not nearly as lyrically dependent, but it’s so good. Jazz fusion is a sibling of the 1920s jazz movement, born out of the late 60s when musicians combined aspects of jazz harmony and improvisation with the styles of funk, rock, rhythm and blues and Latin jazz. As a hybrid genre, the styles can vary greatly across artists, but Snarky Puppy does a pretty good job of covering them all.

The band was formed by Michael League in 2004 during his freshman year of college at the University of North Texas, consisting of him and nine friends. Today that number has grown to include about 20 consistent members, but that number can reach as much as 40 depending on the day. They have a core group, affectionately referred to as “the fam,” but like to invite other interesting and talented artists to jam with them from time to time and maybe even record something.

Over the course of their 14-year-long career, they have released 11 full-length albums – a fairly prolific number but not anything particularly noteworthy considering the hive of musically-gifted minds they have at work. Their most recent LP “Culcha Vulcha” won the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, an award they also took home in 2016 with their album “Sylva.” The group’s first Grammy came in 2014, winning Best R&B Performance on a collaboration track with the highly-decorated R&B singer Lalah Hathaway entitled “Something.”

In general, the style of Snarky Puppy was described by League himself as “a pop band that improvises a lot, without vocals.” Songs are relatively long – typically over 5 minutes – featuring extended and often technically complex improvisational sections on a variety of instruments. One shining example of their improv skills and ability to blend elements of rock and freeform jazz is in the song “Lingus.” Being one of their most popular tracks, this song has come to encompass the essence of Snarky Puppy. For those who are interested, I would recommend you start here and with the album “We Like it Here.” “Lingus” features a more distinct melody intercut by episodes of solo improvisation. Here we see keyboardist Cory Henry dazzle and amaze the small studio audience and his fellow band members alike, at times playing two different keyboards simultaneously. In an absolute frenzy of notes, Henry’s fingers dance up and down the keys with incredibly agility.

Snarky Puppy gives immense hope to fans of a niche genre which is saturated with technical snobs and avante-garde highbrows. With their newer material attracting more attention from award ceremonies, I remain hopeful that general audiences might be willing to give this incredible band the attention they deserve.


Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.