Snarky Puppy, "Culcha Vulcha" Album Review
-Music snobs that can create outrageously beautiful music unapologetically are probably the only kind of music snobs that it's ok to like.
A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to be at a streaming of the band's latest installment of "Family Dinner", a visual recording of their live session of big-band renditions songs by a variety of international artists' songs, and I was honored to get a little bit of facetime with the band members and their featured artists afterwards. Most of the band members reminded me of a lot of the college musicians I met at Vassar over the past half-decade. The originally-from-Texas and Brooklyn-based jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy, who, although, might get in your face for defining them as a jazz fusion band, are a group of people that epitomize snobby elitism in music. Obviously consisting of some stunning young talents, the band doesn't really have a signature sound, which in turn (purposely?) becomes their signature style. Culcha Vulcha is a mystical record, a product of concentrated diverse insights and flawless execution of egocentrism in enthusiastic groupthink. Although sonically volatile from track to track, the album is groove-based and features outstanding performances from a diverse range of instruments. The opening track "Tarova" immediately lights the record on flames. It screams Bitches Brew from miles away with its boisterous arrangement. The organ-driven track patiently awaits each instrumentalists to get their turn while backed up by crisp, layered percussion in the background, as their guitarists, keyboardists and horn & wind players exhibit their showmanship with grand solos. Although the sound is glorious, the arrangement is detailed and gentle and never feels excessive. It's not until the second track when we hear acoustic piano, and as soon as flutes appear on the track, we listeners effectively realize this group of young men are ambitious with their versatility and have no problem showing off. A more dynamic arrangement, "Semente", which means "seed" in Portuguese, carries on a latin-influenced groove over the 7-minute span fluctuating in between outstanding energy and subdued intensity. If the self-righteous exoticness within the names hasn't already set you off, you listen on and encounter the soulful "Gemini", a deeply spiritual release. As the drums finally settle down and find themselves in shallow roots of the emphatic and consistent style AKA Memphis soul, the band finds inspiration from the reverend Al Green and reflects some stay-together-ness in this track dedicated to the Zodiac sign, revealing some rare, heavily reverbed backup vocals that add much richness and magnetism to the joint.
The entire album is in an endless pursuit of the perfect blend, in which the genre-defying puppies really come out to wiggle their tails over a variety of sounds. On "Big Ugly", the band abandon the clean sound and instead use overdriven keyboards and guitars, melting the crunchiness of the blues on top of a Pink Floyd-esque atmosphere with the help from some synths. Ending track "Jefe" incorporates some Meters-style guitar struttin' that drives the groove throughout the track, featuring some Brown/EWF-era funky horns, Wondrously Superstitious wah-wah clav and some surprising vocoder. This is an overwhelming track that almost seems like a journey through the entire American funky discography over the years, traveling from the trippy & intricate arrangements of George Clinton and his friends to the heavily percussive 80's sex-funk of Midnight Love to the souring guitar solos, Hendrix-and-Prince hybrid style. These boys' ambitions are expressed in their most naturally flamboyant form. "Grown Folks" re-introduces some good ol' jazz-funk mastery with crisp, layered muted bass & guitar and swing patterns on the snares, not long after, at the mid-way point, shocking the world with the addition of synths, which make the traditional funk joint suddenly a futuristic disco obsession. "Beep Box" is another highlight of the album. On the most electronic-influenced track off the album, we hear synths, distorted drum machines and heavily manipulated keyboards and guitars, all of which provide the sensual, quiet-storm track inside a mysterious and artificial ambience.
Music snobs that can create outrageously beautiful music unapologetically are probably the only kind of music snobs that it's ok to like. I personally haven't heard a record with so much finesse and complexity that took me this long to examine and try to strip down to its core since Black Messiah. The collective genius of Snarky Puppy proves that while music to most is an instinctive being, it pays off to study, practice & experiment as higher grounds are made available for achievement after stubborn self-enlightenment and education. Ladies & Gentlemen, the most versatile band since your Legendary Roots Crew.