Snarky Puppy, Masters of Dynamics and Funk, Throw Down at Beachland Ballroom

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PHOTOS BY EMANUEL WALLACE
  • PHOTOS BY EMANUEL WALLACE

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It had been nearly two years since the cats in Snarky Puppy graced the fine Beachland Ballroom with their presence. The Cleveland crowd was ravenous. And why not? It's not every day that a jazz/funk collective so tight that their chord fingerings press notes into diamonds shows up on the north shore. So thank goodness for shows like last night's.

To the uninitiated: Snarky Puppy is a Grammy-winning MFing fusion collective led by bassist and composer Michael League. The whole situation encompasses dozens of musicians, and at times it's hard to believe that they're all human. The musicians that land in this group don't mess around, and their sense of timing and improvisational dynamics is impeccable. Last night at the ol' Beachland, we saw a nine-piece ensemble throw down a mindfuck of a set that had the entire room grooving with glee and uninhibited laughter.

(That's one of the great things in life, by the way: those moments at a show where you can't help but shake your head and laugh out loud. I caught myself in the maw a few times last night, and I noticed others catching giddy laughs halfway through a guitar solo many times during the show. That, more than anything — the experience and the visual of others entranced by music and caught up in laughter — is my favorite drug. I first noticed that out-of-body mood during a Nels Cline solo in 2010 in South Bend, Indiana.)

And from the get-go, sidled with a new record and all that, Snarky Puppy slipped into hypnotic groove mode. Culcha Vulcha may be one of the most consistent releases from the collective yet, and they rolled out three of those new tunes before diving into some of the classics and tripping around their repertoire. 

Keys man Shaun Martin stole in show in at least a handful of ways. The guy had some serious charisma onstage, waving a towel around and whoopin' and hollerin' and getting the already-amped crowd deep into a funky groove. When he teased the Super Mario Bros. Underground theme, the whole room bellowed with laughter. 

There was a good deal of interaction like that all night; at one point during a trumpet solo, this guy in the back screamed out, "Don't do it!" Then, the trumpeter did it, and kept on wailing. 

The band encored with "Quarter Master" — with a twist. They brought out Charlie Hunter and told him to call the tempo — "Just keep it in D!" League said with a chuckle, repeatedly and good-naturedly calling Hunter an asshole — and the tune fucking rocked. Hunter laid into an uptempo groove that refused to let up until long after the kindly crowd had wandered onto Waterloo. 

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