sat 29/04/2017

CD: Snarky Puppy – Culcha Vulcha | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Snarky Puppy – Culcha Vulcha

CD: Snarky Puppy – Culcha Vulcha

Renowned fusioneers give themselves studio space to play

The addictive jazz-funk fusion is immediately recognisable, but there’s less showmanship than on their live albums
Funky armchair in the desert sums up the Brooklyn outfit's latest

Snarky Puppy make music on their own terms. Boundary-straddling is their stock in trade, from their origins between Brooklyn and Texas, their technique comprising complex orchestration and individual improv, an expansive approach to genre that spans spiky experimental to the seediest lounge-funk, and an aesthetic that’s heavily amplified but flavoured with horn-driven acoustic sound.

After a series of Family Dinner albums that flouted their eclecticism with guest appearances from world music, gospel and blues stars including Lalah Hathaway, Salif Keita and Laura Mvula, for this, their 11th album and first studio album in eight years, they retreated to an isolated Texan recording studio, and have created an original album of darker, intensely experimental and introspective music. The tricksy, addictive jazz-funk fusion is immediately recognisable, but there’s less showmanship than on their live albums, while the sparks from their creative forge come through bright and loud. The big-stage energy that characterises their live performances becomes a slow-burn stew of playfully fused influences, diverse in origin but united by a slick, big-band funkiness.

The intellectual heat of composition is most evident in the choppy rhythm of “Grown Folks” or the sizzling energy of “Palermo”, while the cinematic space of the Texan landscape emerges in “Big Ugly”, a moody portrait of epic horizons. The band’s homage to smoky funk electronica smoulders through “Beep Box” and “Gemini”, while some of the crowd-pleasing melodic invention familiar from the live releases wafts through two of the less intense tracks, “Servente” and “Go”. Acoustic brass blurs to trancey electronica on “Palermo” and “Grown Folks” – for me, the stand-outs – while the more cerebral opportunities of the studio show Michael League’s Grammy-winners briefly leaving jazz-funk for a more spacey electronica. Occasionally, with the studio freedom, comes a sense of experimentation for its own sake, but listeners who appreciate the band’s attempts to keep a foot in four or five musical camps simultaneously will enjoy this more intense stage of their musical journey.  

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