The fifth of Snarky Puppy’s albums to be recorded live with an audience, and their eighth offering overall, Sylva is the result of a collaboration between them and the critically acclaimed Metropole Orchestra. The result is a soundscape unlike anything we have heard from them before; the grooves, break downs and solos are all still there, reminiscent of their earlier sound, but there is more attention to the atmosphere and structure of the album as a whole, using the orchestra to emphasise their characteristic sound, and also to add a depth often missed in the energetic synth heavy grooves rampant in earlier albums.
It’s got to be said the first track on the album, ‘Gretel’, released on YouTube early to whet the appetite, leaves you incredibly underwhelmed. Expecting the bombastic and energetic nature of the Snarky Puppy it was quite a surprise to instead hear what feels like the exposition of a classical symphony, with a little more synth in places. At this point it seemed unlikely that the jazz fusion Snarky Puppy is known for would translate well to an orchestral setting. However, I could not have been more wrong. Listening to the album in its entirety, it is set out in a very classical way, with two movements for want of a better term. ‘Sintra’ through to ‘The Curtain’ make up one of these movements, then ‘Gretel’ and the ‘The Clearing’ form the second. To get the best out of it the album is to be listened to in its entirety, or at least these sections in their entirety, as the music flows from one track to the next, with no clear endings until the end of each section.
Bill Laurence and Cory Henry to play what seems to be a Bach inspired duet, finishing with a beautiful tierce de Picardie.
The ending pieces of both suites are perhaps some of the most remarkable work Snarky Puppy has done and most definitely the greatest achievement of this album. ‘The Curtain’ is a 15 minute epic, which makes a full and powerful use of the orchestra, building to a heavy groove with a crescendo of a New Orleans jazz style solo, and then dropping right back down to allow for keyboardists Bill Laurence and Cory Henry to play what seems to be a Bach inspired duet, finishing with a beautiful tierce de Picardie. At this the orchestra build back up to the finale of the first section, complete with an enthusiastic and clapping audience. In the context of the album, ‘Gretel’ is the perfect opener for the second half, and the break down at the end is masterful, but for all its excellence it is ultimately overshadowed by the sheer magnificence of ‘The Clearing’ which clocks in at a whopping 20 minutes. Starting with shimmering broken chords on the electric guitar, which are then joined by the string section it is melancholic but quickly picks up with an upbeat orchestral the motif repeated throughout, the best grooves on the album are definitely contained in here as well, with the post ending groove showing League and Sput at the top of their game as a rhythm section.
It shows a more mature and refined side of Snarky Puppy, as well as showing that jazz and classical can mix – and have wonderful results.
Ultimately Sylva is a strange beast, an exceptional concept album that is equal parts classical and jazz fusion, which through incredibly intelligent arrangement has somehow managed to merge into an energetic, yet sophisticated album, which shows off the Metropole Orchestra and Snarky Puppy as a winning combination. It shows a more mature and refined side of Snarky Puppy, as well as showing that jazz and classical can mix – and have wonderful results. It is an excellent offering and I would urge jazz and classical fans alike, or just those curious of what happens when an orchestra mixes with modern jazz fusion to give it a listen!
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