Concert Review | 20th Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Snarky Puppy

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In the vibrant aura of a recent press conference, we find Michael League, the maestro bass player and band leader behind Snarky Puppy. This luminary, recently lauded with a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, graced the stage at the festival with a melodic odyssey, showcasing his latest creation, “Empire Central.”

Twenty years into this sonic expedition, League reflected on the band’s journey, and their evolution. A virtuoso who created the ensemble at the tender age of 19, League delves into the musical kaleidoscope, explaining the ways their repertoire changes nightly, ensuring an unpredictable symphony for the audience. With a repertoire of 40 meticulously prepared pieces, each performance becomes a unique musical presentation, a testament to the band’s commitment to creating an unparalleled experience for their audiences.

The ensemble, a fluctuating constellation of talent, parades with a cohort of nine or ten musicians on any given night, forging an organic cohesion that epitomizes their musical ethos. In this ensemble of 20, six stand as pillars since its inception, a testament to League’s commitment to shared creative responsibility. A musical mosaic blending global traditions, their sound resonates differently with audiences across the globe. In Atlanta, the heartbeat is found in the groove, echoing the vocabulary of the southern gospel church, while in Japan, melodies take center stage. In Mexico, a unique blend of black American cultural inspiration and Latin allure creates a warm, enchanting atmosphere, punctuated by the audience’s melodious participation.

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League’s thoughts on the importance of traditional music and formal education are a testament to his nuanced perspective. While recognizing the potency of tradition, he champions the American spirit of innovation, a force that propels him to weave new narratives while being anchored in the past. In his eyes, this combination results in a canvas for inventiveness, a space where new ideas flourish.

Snarky Puppy’s two-decade journey has been so successful because of the way the band combines mutual respect and individual freedom. League generously allows band members to pursue personal projects, fostering an environment where each artist finds their artistic home. The camaraderie and respect shared within the band, both personally and musically, stand as the pillars fortifying its longevity.

In the press conference, League expressed some of his apprehensions around musical notation. While he sees the appeal of selling sheet music, he perceives it as a barrier, a tangible divide between musician and audience. The preference for an unscripted performance, where musicians absorb the entirety of a composition, resonates with his dedication to a more immersive musical experience.

Looking ahead, League unfolds the map of the future—this includes a symphonic journey with La Orchestra Metropol, spanning eight countries. Each destination serves as a crucible, which will create a distinct album infused with various local essences. The plan, ambitious and exhilarating, exemplifies League’s unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of musical exploration.

As Snarky Puppy celebrates two decades of sonic innovation, League remains the architect of an ever-evolving sound, a conductor guiding his ensemble through uncharted realms, leaving the audience enchanted and yearning for more. Cheers to 20 years of musical alchemy, and to the endless symphony yet to be composed.

Riviera Maya Jazz Festival


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