Review: David Crosby Joins Snarky Puppy At SFJAZZ Gala After Party

By Eric Podolsky Jan 23, 2017 12:32 pm PST

Words by: Eric Podolsky

Images by: Scott Chernis

Snarky Puppy With David Crosby :: 01.18.17 :: SFJAZZ Center
San Francisco, CA

Since opening five years ago, the nonprofit SFJAZZ Center has earned its reputation in the Bay Area as a premiere destination for world-class musicians of all genres. Last Wednesday, the center celebrated its fifth anniversary season with a VIP event honoring master tabla player Zakir Hussain. The lavish, no-holds-barred event featured freely flowing food and drinks for patrons, who witnessed an all-star concert of jazz greats that included Bill Frisell, Joshua Redman, Terence Blanchard and more. The ceremony concluded with Mickey Hart giving a heartwarming speech about his friendship with Hussain and presenting him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

But for some, the AfterJam Party featuring Snarky Puppy may have been the biggest reason to make it out on this rainy weeknight. Playing to a loose crowd already well-lubricated by the open bar, the nine-piece ensemble ripped into their catalog of refined, complex jazz fusion. The sheer professionalism of the musicians gave the music a Steely Dan-like sheen, polished to a bright shine. The atmosphere in the venue was casual and the band appeared playful and relaxed, considering the heavyweights that had just graced the stage.

With bassist Michael League calling all the shots, the band navigated their way through a number of complex time signatures, moving from 7/8 to 3/3 to 10/8 all within one song. Somehow, the music always managed to retain its infectious, driving groove, in large part due to the incredible drumming of Jason “JT” Thomas. A stand-out was “Semente,” a tune off the band’s new album inspired by the music of northeast Brazil. The song’s freewheeling horn riffs and grooves evoked Chick Corea’s compositional style, and the band broke the tune way down, giving the two keyboardists the chance to duel with the drums and explore some rhythmic intricacies.

After a lengthy excursion, it was time for a guest appearance from David Crosby — an unlikely collaborator, but someone who has expressed great respect for Snarky Puppy’s musical abilities. This was one of the few times he had graced the stage with Snarky Puppy, and the band took a supporting role for the three tunes Croz performed. CSNY’s “Deja Vu” was a welcome choice, and featured a joyful, Jaco-like, harmonics-laced bass solo from League. Next was a new, hushed ballad called “Somebody Home” that showcased the band’s tasteful ability to support Crosby’s fragile vocal delivery with delicate support. There was a slight case of musical whiplash here, as this tune was a long way from the virtuosic funk grooves performed a few minutes earlier. With a twinkle in his eye, Crosby closed his sit-in with a triumphant take on CSN’s “Long Time Gone,” which featured lyrics that certainly resonated with the current state of affairs in this land:

  • You know there’s something that’s goin’ on here
  • That surely, surely, surely won’t stand the light of day
  • And it appears to be a long
  • Such a long, long, long time before the dawn
  • Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness
  • You got to speak your mind, if you dare

The post-Crosby portion of the set was a fast return to hard-hitting jazz-funk, and the gala atmosphere turned the set into a monster all-star jam. The music turned loose and fluid as trumpeter Terrance Blanchard and others from the SFJAZZ Collective joined the band on stage one by one, building the band to 13 pieces with a six-piece horn section. With powerful, improvised brass riffs stabbing in between solos, the jam soon morphed into a heavy rock groove. Three percussionists now combined to drive the rhythm forward, laying down a funky bed for keyboardist Bobby Sparks to rip the solo of the night, emulating a shredding electric guitar on a synth keyboard to peak the set out on a high note.

With Zakir Hussain watching from the audience, Snarky Puppy closed out an epic night of music with a true celebration for musicians and audience alike. Here’s to five more years of SFJAZZ and the amazing artists it continues to attract to the Bay Area.

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