If jazz is going to get a foothold in the present generation’s ipod, it is not going to be through mindless and endless cacophonic solos, but through the type of accessible yet swinging music delivered by bands like Snarky Puppy. One of Snarky Puppy’s litter, co-founder Bill Laurance, brought his quartet to the Moss Theatre for a vibrant set that had enough bona fide jazz for the hard core fan and yet enough accessibility for the newcomer that doesn’t know the difference between Coleman Hawkins and a Coleman Stove.
Emphasizing music from his most recent and chart topping (yes, it can be done!) album Aftersun, Laurance switched from acoustic to electric piano, and even making some room for a variety of synthesizers and gadgets. Together with Michael League/b, Robert Searight/dr and Felix Higginbottom/perc, they were able to bop as kind of blueish like Wynton Kelly meeting Jimmy Cobb’s ride cymbal on the cheerful and upbeat “The Pines” , but also get as swagger like Headhunters on funky electronic like ”Swag Times.” On the latter, Searight tapped into his inner Harvey Mason as he dug deep into the groove while Higginbottom mixed acoustic percussion with enough electronic noodles to open up a soup factory. Through it all, Laurance delivered clever and melodic lines, mixing passionate work on the ivories with enough room for spacey synth workings.
Pieces like “Red Sand” had the rhythm team creating a soulful and flowing wave that felt like the bobbing of camels along the sahara, with the leader adding Central Asian dashes to the atmosphere. The joyful “Madeleine” and longing “The Good Things” demonstrated the strengths of the band, as though there were exciting solos, particularly by League on his searing electric bass, they were always a seamless part of the equation and never an excuse for getting up and go to the restroom. Searight’s spotlight on “Aftersun” was like a bright weave on a Raphael tapestry, woven into the pulsating fabric like the lilt of animals migrating along the Serengeti.
Misty synthesizer work by Laurance on “The Real One” along with the driving pulse of the rhythm section made you feel like you were walking along a foggy trail in the mountains with pack mules, while Higginbottom’s brush work on African jars on the reflective and spacious “Golden Hour” evoked images of pensively scanning out of a morning window. By the time the team ended with the reggae-infused “Ablaze” the celebratory sounds had you think it might have been “Bobblehead Night” at Dodger stadium as every neck in the theater was rocking back and forth. When’s the last time you saw THAT at a jazz gig?!?