An acclaimed fusion-influenced jam band, Snarky Puppy have built a loyal following with their adventurous blend of jazz, rock, and funk. Led by bassist Michael League, the Texas group emerged in the mid-2000s and garnered buzz with albums like 2006′s The Only Constant, 2010′s Tell Your Friends, and 2013′s Family Dinner, Vol. 1, which took home the Grammy for Best R&B Performance for their cover of the Brenda Russell song “Something” featuring singer Lalah Hathaway. More accolades followed, including further Grammy Awards for 2015′s Sylva and 2016′s Culcha Vulcha, the latter of which also topped Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart. The band again reached the Top Ten of the jazz charts with 2019′s Immigrance and picked up their fourth Grammy Award for 2020′s Live at the Royal Albert Hall. In 2022, they paid tribute to their Dallas-area roots with Empire Central.
Formed in 2004 in Denton, Texas (where the band members were studying jazz at the University of North Texas), Snarky Puppy features a wide-ranging assemblage of musicians known affectionately as “the Fam,” centered around bassist and leader Michael League. They debuted with the concert album Live at Uncommon Ground in 2005. Over the next few years, the band worked to build their fan base, touring heavily and issuing a handful of well-received albums including 2006′s The Only Constant, 2007′s The World Is Getting Smaller, 2008′s Bring Us the Bright, 2010′s Tell Your Friends, and 2012′s groundUP. In 2013, Snarky Puppy released the album Family Dinner, Vol. 1, which included a cover of Brenda Russell’s “Something” featuring singer Lalah Hathaway. The song proved a hit and propelled the album up various digital download charts. In 2014, “Something” earned Snarky Puppy and Hathaway the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. Also that year, they issued the concert album We Like It Here on Ropeadope.
Snarky Puppy next signed to Impulse! and released Sylva, a collaboration with the Netherlands-based Metropole Orkest, in 2015. The album was greeted enthusiastically by the international press and won the band their second Grammy, this time for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, at the 2016 Grammy Awards. They followed it with two live documents. The first was World Tour, a 32-disc box featuring their 16 favorite concerts; the deluxe package was sold exclusively through their website. In early 2016, the group also issued the audio-video set Family Dinner, Vol. 2, a documentary follow-up to the first Family Dinner that was recorded the previous year. Vol. 2 showcased the band during a concert (and included guests Charlie Hunter, Susana Baca, Salif Keita, and David Crosby), in interviews, and in backstage sequences.
In April 2016, Snarky Puppy struck again with Culcha Vulcha, their 11th studio album and first solely studio-based production in eight years. It topped the jazz album charts the week of its release and took home the prize for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards. In 2019, they issued the League-produced Immigrance, which included the single “Xavi.” It debuted at number two on Billboard’s Jazz Albums charts. While on tour for the album, they recorded their November 14, 2019 performance in London. Released the following year as Live at the Royal Albert Hall, the record took home the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
With 2022′s Empire Central, Snarky Puppy paid tribute to their hometown of Dallas. Recorded over eight nights at the city’s Deep Ellum Art Company with an audience in attendance, the album found them drawing upon their jazz and funk roots going back to their time as students at the University of North Texas. The set also marked one of the final recorded appearances of ’80s funk icon Bernard Wright (a major influence on the group), who died soon after finishing the sessions. Empire Central was named Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in 2023. ~ Matt Collar