Snarky Puppy with Metropole Orkest ‘Sylva’ (Impulse!) 4/5

snarky-puppyThere’s no two ways about it, “Sylva” is an ambitious project even by Snarky Puppy standards. Band leader Michael League has taken the bold step of marrying his New York collective with the genre leaping Metropole Orkest. The resulting album, recorded live, is a tour de force. Taking the usual Snarky elements of jazz, funk, grooves and solos and adding lush orchestration on a grand scale could have resulted in a questionable release at best. It is however, testament to the skill and sincerity of all involved in this recording that what we have here is a formidable achievement – an album that is both fully immersive and compositionally mature, providing the listener with an auditory feast. The album as a whole benefits from a far more cinematic soundscape than Snarky’s previous outings and yet the beauty of it is in the detail; the individual trademark hooks and riffs are still there, just on a bigger scale. The opening trio of tracks segue seamlessly into a three-part suite. “Sintra” quickly introduces us to The Metropole Orkest and is somewhat reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s “Secret Story” with its lush, sweeping orchestration. The music here glides effortlessly into “Flight”, a brilliantly written piece that might begin with its Cinematic Orchestra overtures, but soon develops into what could be described as a long-lost Weather Report classic. “Atchafalaya” completes this segment of the album, a piece that allows for some expert soloing and highlights the killer brass section. The fourth track, or movement, is the 15 minute epic “The Curtain”, a powerful piece that successfully combines intricate orchestration with superb individual playing. There are many different facets on show here, as the track develops into a deep groove with some New Orleans style soloing rising above a rich backdrop of sound… and the stunning final 60 seconds, a paired down keyboard duet, rounds the whole thing off in style. “Gretel” is big, bold and belligerent. A more straight forward track in some ways, it ramps things up with its horn riffs and fearless instrumentation. Acting almost as an intro to the 2nd part of the album, this leads us into the 19 minute finale, “The Clearing”. This is a much quirkier piece, with its intuitive score creating the cinematic feel that rises and falls throughout the recording. The beautiful opening, with its sparse guitar and subtle orchestration has an Ennio Morriconi like emotion within its reach. As with much of the music throughout this recording, there is a drama to it that stays with us for a short while, before quickly moving on, allowing for a change of mood to take hold. There’s an adventurous, more enquiring tone here, with a nod towards the intelligent humour of Loose Tubes or the ground-breaking Marcus Miller / Miles Davis collaborations. All in all a very satisfying, uplifting album and one that successfully combines jazz, funk and classical elements, without losing its soul.

Mike Gates