Snarky Puppy’s appearance at Muriel Kauffman Theater on Tuesday, June 11, was the most financially auspicious instrumental jazz concert of 2019 in Kansas City. The $35 I paid for the worst seat in the house afforded me a panoramic view of the audience of more than 1,500.
The palpable enthusiasm of the uncommon mix of fans of freak-rock acts like Primus, refined pop enthusiasts of artists such as Sting and committed jazz aficionados added a sense of occasion to the band’s long overdue Kansas City debut. Founded by Michael League in 2004 when he was a student at the University of North Texas, Snarky Puppy is a leading light in the progressive jazz scene and a coveted festival headliner.
Even so, I never warmed to Snarky Puppy’s update of the jazz fusion associated with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and the Brecker Brothers. The group’s output always struck me as the overly busy and bombastic work of prodigious studio geeks. (Tuesday’s lineup consisted of violinist Zach Brock, saxophonist and flautist Chris Bullock, bassist Michael League, guitarist Mark Lettieri, trumpeter Mike Maher, saxophonist Bob Reynolds, keyboardist Bobby Sparks, keyboardist and trumpeter Justin Stanton, drummer Jason Thomas and percussionist Marcelo Woloski.)
I made a conscious decision to drop my guard on Tuesday. By allowing the ten musicians to barrage me with their ostentatious solos and fussy arrangements without interference from my usual critical defenses, I gained a new appreciation for the collective. The live presentation is vastly superior to dry studio albums like the 2019 release Immigrance. I thrilled to each solo (the obligatory dual drummer bludgeoning excepted), admired the light show and was left wanting more at the conclusion of the 100-minute set. I showed up merely to witness the Snarky Puppy phenomenon. I left the Kauffman Center as a hard-won fan.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)