Ropeadope Records’ recording artist Snarky Puppy proved last night that the supergroup ideal lives on long after ‘70s stadium rock.
The Brooklyn-based collective kept a near capacity crowd dancing throughout a 90-minute set at Cervantes’ Other Side. Made up of musicians from bands as diverse as Morcheeba, Beyonce, Dave Brubeck, Snoop Dogg, the Polyphonic Spree, Erykah Badu and Justin Timberlake, Snarky Puppy sped through breakneck turns with rack-and-pinion control, stretching from jazz to funk to rock with orchestral arrangements of original compositions.
Formed in 2004 at the jazz-renowned University of North Texas, Snarky Puppy includes about 25 members in all — with eight performing last night — and has released five albums to date. The last two albums, 2010’s “Tell Your Friends” and 2012’s “Ground Up,” were both produced in a unique recording style — live, but in studio, before small audiences. Both recordings confirm Snarky Puppy’s music is best experienced live.
Trumpeter Mike Maher and saxophonist Chris Bullock matched each other note for note and served as the set’s melodic anchors, occasionally trading solos with other band members. If jazz fans in the crowd had one wish, it might have been for the band to take even more solo and improvisational stretches. But then, the band’s compositions and arrangements are challenging enough. Bassist/bandleader Michael League, and, especially, Grammy-winning drummer Rober Searight pushed a ridiculously fast tempo all night, but also screeched to complete stops without notice, affording some songs a kind of second beginning.
“Thing of Gold,” from the most recent album, borrowed a riff from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and turned it into a slow groove that grew more reflective in mood with each passing chorus. Played live, the snaky horn lines of “Quarter Master” transmitted the funk of a Sly Stone song. The band took off on a wild Spanish-influenced arrangement before local keyboardist Joey Porter, who opened the show with his quartet, came on stage for a rousing end to the set that included the theme from “Bonanza” in its second part.
Given its intricate arrangements, tongue-in-cheek references, precise playing and abundant membership, Snarky Puppy might come off as a bit overwhelming to an audience, if they weren’t so busy dancing.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com