Snarky Puppy, Alison Wedding | The Crowbar 02.24.14

And those are the nominees for Tweet of the Year. The envelope, please!

And the winner is: Adam Volpe of Infinite Groove Orchestra. Let’s hear his winning Tweet again!

“If somebody dropped a bomb on this place, it would set the Tampa music scene back 20 years.”

If that wasn’t the exact tweet, it was pretty close. Volpe was talking about the wall-to-wall jam-packed Crowbar waiting to see Snarky Puppy. The sold-out room holds 500 people, of whom 450 were musicians. And that’s probably a low estimate. A bomb would have wiped out several local bands entirely and most of the USF folks as well.

we like it hereSo this review is only ten months late, but it has been brewing in my head the entire time. It actually began a month earlier than this show, when I saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band again at the Sunshine Music and Blues Festival in St. Pete, and it got me to thinking about what “big band” means nowadays. “The Big Band Era” always referred to  Miller, Goodman, Basie, Ellington, Kirk, Henderson, Shaw and the other titans of that time. But the definition of five reeds, three trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass and drums no longer fits.

In the 60s, bands such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears began to approach the concept of a big band. Joe Cocker and Leon Russell got an A+ for their Mad Dogs and Englishmen ensemble, but obviously that becomes a huge issue to travel with a band that size both logistically and financially.

George Clinton made it work for many, many years with the Parliafunkadelicment Thang, where as many as 20 people might be on stage at one time. Zappa tried it in 1988, but musician in-fighting imploded the band mid-tour (before they made it to Florida, darn it).

More recently on the jam scene, you can look to bands such as Lettuce and Orgone and other similarly structured groups with horn sections. However, the two leaders in this category, in my mind, are Snarky Puppy and the Tedeschi Trucks collective. TTB has a pretty good profile nationally on the jam front, as featured artists at many festivals around the country. Meanwhile, Snarky Puppy had been flying under the radar for the non-musician crowd until they scored a well-deserved Grammy last year for a Lalah Hathaway collaboration from Family Dinner – Volume One.

I had been fortunate enough to catch SP sets on two days at the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival in 2011 (hard to imagine it was that long ago). They were so incredible Saturday night that I had to see them again early Sunday. I was looking forward to another SP encounter. The last four of the band’s CD releases feature a DVD of the music as it was recorded, live, before an audience. That’s how Snarky Puppy rolls. The effect is amazing. In fact, the most recent in the series, We Like It Here, was due to be released the day after the Crowbar show.

We were in for a surprise. Alison Wedding opened the program with a remarkable voice. She is a jazz-singing songwriter, or maybe a song-writing jazz singer: take your pick. Hearing her makes me think, as I have mentioned before, that so many of the singers on our scene are vastly superior to the drivel served up on what passes for FM radio. Wedding hails from Australia but now lives in New York and is an assistant voice professor at Berklee College of Music. She was joined by several of the members of Snarky Puppy, but memory does NOT serve me here. She performed a beautiful set of tunes, some from her CD This Dance.

Finally, it was time for the main event. The man, the myth, the legend: Michael League. He has been assembling, since 2004, a group of musicians that could be as many as 16 or so touring at a time. They describe their music as “instrumental fusion,” but that barely scratches the surface and doesn’t begin to do justice to the incredible range and pure dynamic power that the band produces.

I recall going to see the Glenn Miller tribute band several times in 1973 and was blown away by the majesty of the sound washing over you unamplified. You get the same effect at a symphony hall. Snarky Puppy has exactly that kind of presence. Their music snaps, crackles and pops (and I don’t mean like a scratched-up LP). It sizzles. They don’t need to turn it up to Nigel Tufnel range (that’s 11 on a scale of 10, for you non-Spinal Tap fans).

They hit many of the songs from We Like It Here, and as you looked around you saw one of two things: enormous grins or jaws on the ground. It was that spectacular!

As if all that were not enough, when they had finally drained all of us, the entire band hung around for more than half an hour talking with everyone, signing autographs, expressing genuine interest in all of us fanboys and fangirls. It was a truly rewarding night.

And now they are returning to the Tampa Bay area, right before jumping on Jam Cruise. The show is Monday night, January 5th, at the State Theatre.

But wait! There’s more!

One of my other most favorite-ist bands on the planet is on the same bill. The Motet, from Colorado, are one of the funkiest jazz bands, or is that jazziest funk bands, on the planet. I would be going to see either one. Both bands? I hope I don’t, like, explode first!

But wait! There’s even more! Two of my most favorite local bands, Displace and Serotonic, are doing the afterparty across the street at Local 662. I WILL explode!


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