- The Curtain
- The Clearing
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Brooklyn's Snarky Puppy jazz-funk collective have become one of modern music's bright lights. Sylva, their debut for Impulse, is their fifth live album and eighth overall. It is unlike anything else in their catalog thus far, yet it embodies all the things they do so well: R&B, fusion, NOLA second line, soul-jazz, and more. It is a concert collaboration with Utrecht's Metropole Orkest; a single work comprised of two suites. The first four tracks make up the first, while the last two comprise the second. Sylva realizes composer/bassist Michael League's dream for Snarky Puppy: to work on a cinematic, orchestral scale without resorting to a watered-down "with strings" exercise. Their trademark edges -- in arrangement, improvisation, and groove quotient -- all remain intact. Fans may experience initial hesitation during the opening strains of the set's overture "Sintra." It contains repetitive, moody strings and winds before the band's horns enter on a Latin tinge and rhythms follow suit. The Metropole's horns join and it all starts to swirl, ending on the fat crescendo that introduces the slinky jazz-funk of "Flight." It features more familiar traits, with spidery synth and Rhodes, vamping guitars, and layers of staggered percussion and B-3 as its engine. "Atchafalaya" sounds exactly like its title: swampy, sweaty NOLA horn funk with stinging electric guitars and popping stacks of percussion as its hallmarks. "The Curtain" is over 15 minutes long. It employs intimate post-bop, symphonic rock, big-band funk, dancefloor stomp, cosmic fusion, and classical elegance. Sylva's closer is the nearly 20-minute "The Clearing." Debussy-ian impressionism may introduce it, but lithe, shimmering R&B, swinging, fat-horned progressive big band (think Clarke-Boland), greasy, blackbone-slipping alley funk, trancey Miles-esque fusion, and Wardell Quezergue-styled NOLA horn grooves wind out of it. This sprawler ratchets down before rebuilding toward a swaggering climax with brass, guitars, bass, drums, and B-3 all on stun. Sylva may not be the dance party face of Snarky Puppy, but there is one within it. League writes not only tor the strengths in his band, but also those of the Metropole Orkest -- they are not only able to "hang" with Snarky Puppy, they push them -- hard. Many acts have attempted collaborative exercises like this, but few -- if any -- have pulled them off. Musical sophistication meets the gritty danger of live performance; execution matches ambition with crackling energy and soulful expression.
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Terrific album. This group along with Jaga Jazzist and Nik Bartsch's Ronin are making the best jazz in the world right now.