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Snarky Puppy bring skill, panache to the 8×10

April 18, 2013
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Appearing Wednesday night at Federal Hill’s 8×10 armed with an excess of technical talent, Texas based jazz/dance/fusion/world collective Snarky Puppy served clear notice in just how criminally unrecognized they are within the spectrum of popular music. Of course, meandering instrumental songs will never be as accessible as simplistic tracks with vocals, but in an era where increasingly imaginative acts routinely headline massive festivals, Snarky Puppy should be pulling off their technically breathtaking high-wire act on a scale consistent with their ability. Regardless, the band’s founder and principle composer, bassist Michael League, is more than happy to jam their 8-man outfit into a matchbox-sized club like the 8×10. In fact, he prefers it.

“I think the smaller the club, the better we sound,” League said Tuesday evening, minutes before taking the stage. “I think the thing that makes the musicians and the band special are the subtleties. In a very large room that’s noisy, you lose a lot of that,” he said.

Indeed, the minutiae League referred to was undoubtedly the crowning feature of Tuesday night’s performance. With the evening’s hushed crowd visibly attentive in contrast to the 8x10’s often boozy party-time hoards, audience members could be seen shaking their heads in bemused amazement at the band’s finely detailed layering.

Pulling together a handful of his most talented friends during his senior year at University of North Texas in 2004, League says the band’s formation came out of a desire to apply his academic studies in jazz to more adventurous material.

“We were all playing more straight ahead stuff because we were all young college students trying to get our stuff together,” he said,  “But I was writing a lot of stuff that was more pop and world influenced, groove influenced kind of stuff.”

An endlessly fascinating aspect of Snarky Puppy’s live show is its alternate cohesion and individual creativity. Keyboardist Cory Henry was particularly impressive Wednesday, equally animated pounding out lines of dizzying jazz, up-tempo synth-funk and cool, hip-hop influenced riffing.

A spectacle all his own, League’s facial expressions, hand-signals to the band, and guileless, boyish enthusiasm serve to further enhance the group’s stage presence. Unsurprisingly, one of the band’s greatest successes has been in recording in-studio DVDs, with a small, attentive crowd present. The DVDs, League says, are an innovative way to circumvent internet piracy while capturing the essence of their in-performance mojo.

“I was trying to create a product that couldn’t be easily burned or stolen, unlike CDs,” he said. “It was a combination of that and also hearing from a lot of people that they enjoyed seeing us more than they enjoyed hearing us. They enjoyed watching us live more than they enjoyed listening to our records. So I figured we should combine the visual element with a high sound quality.”

In addition to their DVD projects, the band has produced a songbook with their technically complicated compositions available to fans as sheet music, including individual parts, scores, and personal notes from League on each song.

Snarky Puppy’s current American tour moves on, stopping at Philadelphia’s World Café Live tonight– another intimately sized venue. With dates snaking along the east coast, winding through the south and heading west, the group will play a one-off date in Australia for the before returning to the DMV for a slot opening for The Roots at the Washington Kastles stadium on June 15th. From there, the band will continue on to Europe, where a stop in Amsterdam will be recorded for official release. The band plans to release three new albums this year; two of which, League shared with the crowd last night, are already being mastered.

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