Snarky Puppy plays hard-to-define music ‘for booty and brain’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th-century German writer and politician, once said we should try to “hear a little music” every day in order to stay in touch with life’s beauties.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but there is nothing little about Snarky Puppy’s sound — or songs.
Snarky Puppy, an instrumental jazz-funk band whose members hail from all over the world, will make an appearance at McKees Rocks’ Roxian Theatre at 8 p.m. May 15. And if you haven’t heard their hard-to-define music, chances are you’re in a growing minority.
The self-described collective has been around since 2003 and has cranked out 12 albums and gone on countless tours around the globe. Local appearances have included the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall in Munhall and Greensburg’s SummerSounds concert series.
In 2014, the collective earned a Grammy Award for best R&B performance. The band snagged back-to-back Grammys for best contemporary instrumental album (“Culcha Vulcha”) in 2016 and 2017.
Their latest release, “Immigrance,” plays on the band’s diverse makeup and bent for embracing cultural sounds. The collective’s founder, composer and bassist Michael League says the album — its moniker not without political undertone — is about movement.
‘Everything is fluid’
“The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration,” he says on Snarky Puppy’s website.
Jamison Ross, one of the band’s drummers, agrees.
“That’s who we are,” he says. “We’ve definitely grown to be about embracing culture and understanding there is more than one view point on everything.”
Ross, 31, of New Orleans joined the “fam,” as the group calls it, in 2015 after playing with League at a jazz festival. From there, Ross said “it’s been a ride” of touring around the world with the band while also juggling a successful solo career.
But being part of the Snarky Puppy family is more than having fun — though that is a big part of the group’s goal. It’s also about growing as a musician and experiencing a level of freedom while playing in the moment, he says.
Being part of the collective has helped him find that groove and continue to push forward.
“Because the camaraderie musically and the level of musicianship is very high, it doesn’t take long for the band to start something and make something out of it — to bring it to life. It’s a nerdy, cool bunch,” Ross says.
The bunch at times reaches up to 30 musicians, according to Shaun Martin, one of Snarky Puppy’s keyboardists who also happens to be a Grammy-winning musician.
Martin, 40, of Dallas says the band’s “nerdy” aspect is part of what makes the band unique — especially at live shows.
‘Booty and brain’
“I like to say it’s music for your booty and your brain,” Martin says. “Like when we have poly-rhythms going on, you know, that’s cerebral. So the people that know about music, they know about that. But the groove is so funky that you’re shaking your (behind) and you don’t know why.”
Mike “Maz” Maher, 36, of Brooklyn says the group has progressed from its early days, when he and his University of North Texas jazz classmates formed the group. After 16 years, he’s most proud that Snarky Puppy is “still doing it.”
“We’re still making new records and pushing ourselves into new areas musically — to try new things all the time,” he says.
And that’s what “Immigrance” — and really Snarky Puppy — is all about, he says.
“We operate under the belief that the music will stay alive if we continue to push ourselves. The audience might not immediately gravitate to it, but hopefully they end up following us to find a new freshness and aliveness for themselves,” Maher says.
And when music takes us to new places within ourselves, that’s beautiful.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .