Earlier this week, Nashville was lucky enough to host one of the most innovative and creative bands in the business right now. Combining elements of jazz, electronica, rock, and everything in between, Snarky Puppy attracted probably one of the most demographically diverse crowds I have ever seen at a concert. It was amazing to see this band have such a crowd equally invested into their music, and taking a closer look at their work will show you how this was possible.
One of Snarky Puppy’s memorable hits, “Thing of Gold”, provides kind of like an introductory course into what makes Snarky Puppy the band that they are. Off of their 2012 album, groundUP, this track opens up to an electric piano laying down the chords as a smooth tenor sax sneaks in with a Latin beat coming up behind. Seems like a pretty typical opening for any jazz group, however an entirely new and unexpected flavor is added in when the electric guitar responds to the call of the sax. This sets the stage for the characteristic juxtaposition of old and new, synthesized and natural, smooth and unapologetic sounds that make Snarky Puppy so appealing to a wide crowd. For example, when we think of synths nowadays, bands like Passion Pit come into mind. They incorporate the synth to play some catchy or melodic riff that meshes in with the fabric of the song. Although Snarky Puppy does use the synth in a similar fashion for a good portion of the song, around 4:50 in the video above, you see the synth break away from one of the melodic motifs of “Thing of Gold” and delve into a funky solo.
The instrumentation of the band itself lends Snarky Puppy to be difficult to be easily characterized. In the video, a string section was featured, but there was nothing like that whenever I saw them at the Mercy Lounge Sunday, and generally the entire group does not tour. The horn section pushes the band into more of a jazzy direction, however any jazz musician can tell you that the guitar sounds that mixes in with the horns are nothing like the ensemble sounds coming from the 1920s. Honestly, some of the guitar solos featured in the performance could have easily belonged into the set of a 1980s rock band. Combined with the stylings of the rhythm section, I would say that the best general category to throw them under would be ‘jazz fusion’, but obviously a lot of these genres are arbitrary and can mean different thing to different people. Whatever you call it, this conglomeration caters to Snarky Puppy appealing to a wide crowd.