Top dogs won new fans
By Anastasia and Peter Slipper
The Melbourne International Jazz Festival audience was treated to a genre-hopping jazz-fusion spectacle by young US band Snarky Puppy at the Forum last night. Perhaps serendipitously, numbers were boosted for this still relatively obscure ensemble by jilted ticket-holders who missed out on seeing legendary New Orleans band Rebirth Brass Band after they had to suddenly pull out of the festival. However disappointed the punters may have been to miss the Rebirth second-line parade earlier in the day, they were certainly not disappointed by the end of the night!
Vocalist Alison Wedding (who was first responsible for alerting festival Artistic Director Michael Tortoni to the existence of the band) warmed up the room with a short set of her own material. “Too Tight” was a stand-out, reggae-inspired declaration against unhealthy body image.
After a short break, the band again took the stage, this time sans vocalist, lead by bass player extraordinaire Michael League. His whole body became part of the instrument, as he impressed the audience with extended virtuosic solos, and laid down some seriously funky grooves.
Each member of the band had plenty of chances to shine as they worked their way through a labyrinth of constantly changing styles and moods. Every solo was thoughtfully constructed and carefully built towards an exciting climax, and even in their supporting roles, all band members were responsive, showing how tightly knit they are after years of touring. Crowd-favourite “Quarter Master” was a highlight of the night, switching from New Orleans second line-eque grooves to gospel harmonies.
Throughout the gig, time changes and horn stabs were super-tight, but the band never drifted into vulgar displays of virtuosity. A special mention must go to Justin Stanton, who consistently excelled, whether on trumpet, moog synth or Hammond organ. An epic drum and percussion solo from Nate Werth and Robert Searight was musically and dramatically exciting, while never migrating into self-indulgence.
If you like funky grooves, a few 80s-synth effects, and exciting twists and turns Snarky Puppy are one to keep an eye out for!
Snarky Puppy performed at The Forum Theatre on Saturday 1 June for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival which ends June 9.