Music

Empire Central

September 30, 2022

Snarky Puppy, the genre-defying super-band, is a lot like Dallas, city of its birth. On Empire Central the eclectic 19-piece electric ensemble is big and bold, chill and laid back, rooted in its native culture while reaching outward, forward-bound. With 16 new compositions including the song “Take It!” -- regrettably, the last recorded performance of ‘80s funk star Bernard Wright, who Snarky ringleader Michael League identifies as a Godfather-like figure – the group looks fondly at where it’s come from, confident in the polished power from which its members continue to build the unique Snarky Puppy sound.

That sound now rises like a skyscraper from a 21st century orchestra comprising three guitarists, at least four keyboardists, two brass, two reeds, a violinist, multiple percussionists and drummers and the accomplished yet modest League keeping it all together with his bass. That lineup was unimaginable when ten friends enrolled in the jazz program of University of North Texas (aka North Texas State) in Denton, 30 miles from Dallas, first convened in 2004. But as Snarky Puppy’s core members moved to the city and were embraced by the region’s Black churches and stalwarts of that community’s music, they matured.

“Our soundscape has expanded dramatically over the years,” says League.

“When the band started we were jazzier, brainy and world-music oriented. Moving into the Dallas scene we became groovier, more emotional, deeper in a sense. We focused more on communicating a clear message, understandable to a listener without dumbing things down.” Having issued 13 albums in 18 years (garnering four Grammy Awards), attracting international fandom and establishing their own GroundUP Music label, Snarky Puppy has proved that listeners will follow them into ever-more confident and detailed arrangements of anthemic motifs, fetching melodies, texturally layered harmonies, exciting solos, ear-candy synth effects and propulsive beats.

Empire Central doubles down on Snarky Puppy’s distinctly Southwestern influences, like the blues, hard rock, classic soul, modern gospel, percolating funk, new tech, ever-misunderstood “fusion” and jazz, without sounding derivative. Rather, it conjures from them music that’s fresh and original. League asked his confreres to compose in homage to the town they consider their common ground, and artists from it who’ve changed music history, “especially Black music history,” he asserts (that honor roll includes Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, Roy Hargrove, also touching on St. Vincent, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Miles). Eleven of the bandmates, as well as Michael himself, contributed tunes which were developed and refined over two weeks of rehearsals.

“Snarky Puppy has always been a band that prioritizes the sound of the music,” he says. “On this record there was some collaboration in the writing process but when a song goes to the band and the players start making suggestions or changing things our collective feeling really comes through. The songs ended up being a lot more direct and funkier than those on our previous records. I think it reflects the many moods of the city’s scene.”

For instance, League says he penned “Keep It On Your Mind,” the opening track of Empire Central, “thinking slow, funky, laid back, grooving; and intense.” He calls “Belmont,” named for the Dallas street where he lived, mellow, as is “Cliroy,” a slow-jam ballad composed by brass specialist Jay Jennings as an homage to the late jazz trumpeters Clifford Brown and Roy Hargrove, whose hip-hop-inflected RH Factor is a touchstone. In contrast, “Pineapple” by Mike “Maz” Maher and Michael League is an upbeat dance track referring to house rhythms and new jack swing.

Furthering the “homage to Dallas” theme, founding percussionist Nate Werth’s party-down piece “Mean Green” is titled for the mascot of the band’s alma mater; “Fuel City” by keyboardist Bill Laurance is a brooding dedication to a local gas station where the band often congregated for the great tacos it serves; League’s “Bet” is inspired by Dallas bandleader-music director R.C. Williams; Justin Stanton’s “Broken Arrow” infuses the tones of CSNY, Al Green and Edu Lobo, and “Trinity,” by guitarist Mark Lettieri, is named for the river that snakes through tributaries and forks to connect Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton.

Globe-trotting Snarky Puppy, which typically mounts two-month tours, of course sustains its interest in the larger world and beyond. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Bullock’s “East Bay” evokes Oakland, California. Percussionist Marcelo Woloski’s “Portal” tags elements of Uruguayan Candombe. Violinist Zach Brock’s “Honiara” nods to traditional folk arts of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and guitarist Bob Lanzetti identifies his work “Coney Bear” to be in the vein of the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership and cosmic prophet Sun Ra.

But Empire Central is, ultimately, about Snarky Puppy’s spiritual base. “RL’s” by League is a Texas shuffle in the fashion heard at the Dallas blues shack “RL’s Blues Palace II.” Stanton’s “Free Fall” casts a glance back to Jamaica, Queens in the 1980s where Bernard Wright, who took so many of the band’s members under his wing, originated from. Having relocated and a resident of Dallas for decades, Wright essays an irresistibly slinky synth improv on “Take It!,” written by keyboardist Bobby Sparks, one of the first hometown Dallas musicians to join the band.

That Wright died in a car accident at age 58 (less than three months after sitting in throughout the eight nights of live recording and videotaping for Empire Central at Deep Ellum Art Company), is a tragedy weighing heavily on Snarky Puppy, and adding meaning to this, its latest work. “He was our collective’s mentor,” League says. Wright encouraged the band when it was deemed too rock for jazz festivals and too jazzy for rock clubs.

“Many instrumental bands now have a similar setup to Snarky Puppy, with lots of electric instruments, different textures, combining jazz and funk and rock, but it wasn’t like that in the early 2000s,” Michael League remembers. “We’ve kept at it, playing together for 18 years, so we know who we are, and also where we want to be going as we integrate new ideas into the music.

“Our rule is that it can’t sound like it sounded before,” he continues. “The music has to feel like it’s moving somewhere.” Not out of Dallas – although Michael lives in Spain now, his ties to his former home are permanent and at least four members of Snarky Puppy still call the DFW metroplex home. Since 2004, Dallas has developed dramatically, expanding its Arts District, adding some 1.2 million residents, becoming the fastest growing population center in the U.S., embracing its accomplished, ambitious, culture-bridging ensemble as favorite sons.

What will Dallas do next? Where will Snarky Puppy go next? Farther – in the direction of Empire Central.

  • 1

    Keep It On Your Mind

    5:31
  • 2

    East Bay

    5:11
  • 3

    Bet

    5:34
  • 4

    Cliroy

    4:45
  • 5

    Take It!

    6:39
  • 6

    Portal

    5:13
  • 7

    Broken Arrow

    7:19
  • 8

    RL's

    9:23
  • 9

    Mean Green

    4:55
  • 10

    Fuel City

    4:52
  • 11

    Free Fall

    3:51
  • 12

    Belmont

    6:29
  • 13

    Pineapple

    4:57
  • 14

    Honiara

    6:50
  • 15

    Coney Bear

    5:17
  • 16

    Trinity

    7:54
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Live at the Royal Albert Hall

March 13, 2020

In 2012, Snarky Puppy booked their first European tour through Facebook posts, begging people to help find a bar they could play in. Years later, on November 14th, 2019, Snarky Puppy recorded their sold-out show from the iconic Royal Albert Hall in London, which will be their first official live release in almost 4 years. Featuring an extended line-up of 15 out of their 18 regular members, the record includes many tracks from their recent studio album, Immigrance. Live at the Royal Albert Hall captures an interesting mix of new and old songs, illustrating their musical and artistic progression over the years.

  • 1

    Even Us

  • 2

    Intelligent Design

  • 3

    While We're Young

  • 4

    Alma

  • 5

    Bad Kids To The Back

  • 6

    Bigly Strictness

  • 7

    Tarova

  • 8

    Xavi

  • 9

    Chonks

  • 10

    Sleeper

  • 11

    Shofukan

  • Available Now

Immigrance

March 15, 2019

Immigrance, the new Snarky Puppy studio album, is all about movement. "The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration," explains Michael League. "Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones."

Like Culcha Vulcha, Immigrance is a studio project, and it features most of the same musicians. And though it shares that project’s ace musicianship and dynamic, kinetic spirit, it is also more raw and moodier than its predecessor. Several of the compositions put a newfound emphasis on delivering simpler, streamlined impact. With Immigrance, Snarky Puppy is essentially practicing what it’s preached all along: People from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and that can be beautiful and cohesive. The band itself is a representation of that musical expression.

  • 1

    Chonks

    8:32
  • 2

    Bigly Strictness

    7:37
  • 3

    Coven

    6:38
  • 4

    Bling Bling

    5:55
  • 5

    Xavi

    9:31
  • 6

    While We're Young

    2:41
  • 7

    Bad Kids To The Back

    5:45
  • 8

    Even Us

    7:43
  • (Select a track)

Culcha Vulcha

2016

Fresh off of the heels of its tenth album, Family Dinner - Volume Two, the band is returning to its roots as an instrumental ensemble with a brand new collection of nine original songs. A departure from its signature live-from-the-studio film and audio style, the band spent a week in the middle of a pecan orchard at the remote Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, just a five minute walk from the Mexican border. With no cameras, no audience, and the opportunity to overdub, they have crafted an album much darker and moodier than any before it. The typical flash and bombastic moments that Snarky Puppy is known for have been replaced by a more patient, restrained, and sonically creative approach to both composition and performance. The melodies are intricate, the counterpoint is fluid, and groove reigns supreme in mixes that are bass and percussion-heavy.

  • 1

    Tarova

    3:39
  • 2

    Semente

    7:11
  • 3

    Gemini

    5:15
  • 4

    Grown Folks

    7:57
  • 5

    Beep Box

    4:01
  • 6

    8:53
  • 7

    The Simple Life

    4:01
  • 8

    Palermo

    6:37
  • 9

    The Big Ugly

    9:09
  • (Select a track)

Family Dinner, Vol. 2

2016

In February of 2015, Grammy Award-winning band Snarky Puppy recorded Family Dinner Volume Two in front of a live studio audience with guest instrumentalists and vocalists from all over the world. A companion piece to the monumental album, this documentary/concert-film features exclusive candid interviews and acoustic performances from the guest artists. The project is a true testament for showing first-hand how music can be a bridge between diverse cultures from countries from all over the world to create a unifying musical statement for the average listener or the devout music-connoisseur.

  • 1

    I Asked (featuring Becca Stevens & Väsen)

    6:54
  • 2

    Molino Molero (featuring Susana Baca & Charlie Hunter)

    5:30
  • 3

    Liquid Love (featuring Chris Turner)

    6:36
  • 4

    Soro (Afriki) (featuring Salif Keita, Carlos Malta, & Bernardo Aguiar)

    8:17
  • 5

    Sing to the Moon (featuring Laura Mvula & Michelle Willis)

    5:51
  • 6

    Don't You Know (featuring Jacob Collier & Big Ed Lee)

    10:44
  • 7

    I Remember (featuring Knower & Jeff Coffin)

    6:34
  • 8

    Somebody Home (featuring David Crosby)

    6:30
  • 9

    Be Still (feat. Becca Stevens & Väsen)

    4:32
  • 10

    Fuego Y Agua (feat. Susana Baca)

    5:35
  • 11

    Shapons Vindaloo (feat. Väsen)

    8:03
  • 12

    One Hope (feat. KNOWER)

    3:30
  • 13

    Brother, I'm Hungry (feat. Nigel Hall & NOLA International)

    8:35
  • (Select a track)

Sylva

with Metropole Orkest

2015

Released on May 26 via Impulse!/Universal Music Classics, Sylva is the first time the band has joined forces with an orchestra. The 60-minute suite was recorded and filmed live with the multi-Grammy-winning Metropole Orkest orchestra from the Netherlands, for whom it was specifically written. It topped 4 separate Billboard and iTunes charts upon release.

  • 1

    Sintra

    3:32
  • 2

    Flight

    6:03
  • 3

    Atchafalaya

    6:04
  • 4

    The Curtain

    15:09
  • 5

    Gretel

    4:21
  • 6

    The Clearing

    19:23
  • (Select a track)

We Like It Here

2014

From the moment Snarky Puppy played its first overseas show to a sold-out London crowd, they felt at home in Europe. Recorded and filmed live with a studio audience over 4 nights in the Netherlands, We Like It Here captures the band at its most explorative point in its career, in both composition and improvisation. The film also contains over an hour of interviews, behind the scenes tour footage in Europe, and alternate solo takes from the recording sessions.

  • 1

    Shofukan

    6:33
  • 2

    What About Me?

    6:42
  • 3

    Sleeper

    6:51
  • 4

    Jambone

    5:07
  • 5

    Kite

    6:12
  • 6

    Outlier

    6:45
  • 7

    Tio Macaco

    5:43
  • 8

    Lingus

    10:45
  • (Select a track)

Family Dinner, Vol. 1

2013

Inspired by a music series that the band runs in New York City, Family Dinner - Volume One is a live DVD featuring 8 different vocalists with Snarky Puppy as the backing band. Genre morphs from track to track with performances by Lalah Hathaway, Lucy Woodward, N'Dambi, Magda Giannikou, Shayna Steele, Chantae Cann, Tony Scherr, and Malika Tirolien. The album was recorded and filmed in the beautiful Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA in March 2013.

  • 1

    Free Your Dreams

    4:46
    Chantae Cann
  • 2

    Gone Under

    5:46
    Shayna Steele
  • 3

    Deep

    5:13
    N'Dambi
  • 4

    Amour, T'es La?

    4:22
    Magda Giannikou
  • 5

    Something

    7:35
    Lalah Hathaway
  • 6

    Too Hot To Last

    4:44
    Lucy Woodward
  • 7

    Turned Away

    7:22
    Tony Scherr
  • 8

    I'm Not The One

    5:16
    Malika Tirolien
  • (Select a track)

Amkeni

with Bukuru Celestin

2013

A collaboration between Snarky Puppy and the young Burundian refugee Bukuru Celestin. Made by possible by a grant from Chamber Music America, Amkeni fuses traditional central African music with the band's unique take on Bukuru's songs. It was recorded in February 2013 at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA.

  • 1

    Ndagukunda

    5:13
  • 2

    Shima

    4:08
  • 3

    Nyabugingo

    5:01
  • 4

    Amkeni

    7:55
  • 5

    Ntumbero

    4:16
  • 6

    Muzogezahe

    6:35
  • (Select a track)

groundUP

2012

groundUP was filmed and recorded live over 3 nights in legendary bassist Matt Garrison's new Brooklyn performance space, Shapeshifter Lab, in front of a 40-person studio audience. Similar to the setting of their last several live albums/DVDs, the project captures the rawness and spontaneity of Snarky Puppy's live energy, but this time in a stripped-down Brooklyn warehouse.

  • 1

    Thing of Gold

    6:25
  • 2

    Bent Nails

    5:02
  • 3

    Minjor

    5:24
  • 4

    Binky

    9:38
  • 5

    Mr. Montauk

    5:53
  • 6

    Like A Light

    4:47
  • 7

    Young Stuff

    9:02
  • 8

    Quarter Master

    8:45
  • (Select a track)

Tell Your Friends

2010

The first of Snarky Puppy's live, in-studio DVD/albums, Tell Your Friends was filmed and recorded in one night at the cozy swamp-set Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana, and is the band's debut release on Ropeadope Records. It marks the first recorded appearance of Grammy Award-winner Shaun Martin on organ and Moog, and a live 30-person studio audience.

  • 1

    Whitecap

    8:28
  • 2

    Flood

    9:09
  • 3

    The Good Man Deliver and The Best Is Blessed

    7:20
  • 4

    Skate U

    6:54
  • 5

    Slow Demon

    8:06
  • 6

    Ready Wednesday

    9:04
  • (Select a track)

Bring Us The Bright

2008

Snarky Puppy's third studio album is the first recording of the band after it melded with the Dallas music community. Featuring keyboardists Bernard Wright and Bobby Sparks as well as drummer/keyboardist Robert "Sput" Searight, Bring Us the Bright is a noticeable departure into a brand new landscape of grooves and textures. It was recorded in Dallas, TX in April 2008 and mixed by Chris Godbey (Timbaland).

  • 1

    Bring Us The Bright

    6:36
  • 2

    Loose Screws

    4:19
  • 3

    Strawman

    8:27
  • 4

    34 Klezma

    6:13
  • 5

    Strange Dream

    5:21
  • 6

    Celebrity

    6:27
  • 7

    Making The Circle

    6:47
  • 8

    And Soon We'll Be One

    4:50
  • (Select a track)

The World Is Getting Smaller

2007

The second studio album from Snarky Puppy, The World is Getting Smaller features two live drummers (Rob Avsharian and Steve Pruitt) panned left and right (as well as a guest appearance from master percussionist Jose Aponté), and marks a compositional departure from The Only Constant. It was recorded as most of the band was leaving college at the University of North Texas in 2007.

  • 1

    Native Sons

    8:54
  • 2

    Intelligent Design

    8:26
  • 3

    Alma

    8:15
  • 4

    Thorn

    5:34
  • 5

    The World Is Getting Smaller

    5:55
  • 6

    Briar

    8:20
  • 7

    Phoebus

    6:47
  • 8

    Fair Play

    7:15
  • (Select a track)

The Only Constant

2006

Here's where it all started! Made all the way back in 2005 and released in '06, The Only Constant is a snapshot of the band in its infancy as students at the University of North Texas. It features 5 very, very different tracks by Michael League and has a more open and acoustic sound than any other of Snarky Puppy's albums.

  • 1

    Open Forum

    10:34
  • 2

    Hot & Bothered

    8:36
  • 3

    Precipice

    8:45
  • 4

    Revisited

    7:51
  • 5

    Oblongata

    8:20
  • (Select a track)