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Friday, April 29, 2016


My next commentary on the "other" Grammys is on the winner of Best Contemporary Instrumental, which went to a group called Snarky Puppy. Much as that name may suggest a punk-rock group, they are instead a fusion band led by Michael League, who writes all the music and plays bass. In reading about Snarky Puppy, they have tried almost everything and can't be pigeon-holed.

Sylva, the album that won the Grammy, finds Snarky Puppy teamed with an orchestra, Metropole Orkest of the Netherlands. The music, I guess it can be said, is orchestral jazz, with an element of big band, swing, or as it was once called, hot jazz. I have some problems with jazz, but usually only with stuff written after the 1960s. This sounds much more like it came from the 1940s, my favorite era of jazz.

Sylva, of course, means "woods," and the six-track suite suggests a trip through the forest. The capping number, "The Clearing," is a nineteen-minute celebratory work, maybe a celebration of that the person involved has made it out of the forest. The first few notes of the first track, "Sintra," are strings that suggest something dark and foreboding. Another track title is Gretel, who once had an adventure in the forest.

I don't know much about this kind of music, but I know what I like, and I like this. Often, when I hear instrumental music, I imagine that is a film score, and much of Sylva does sound like that. Then it's a matter of imagining what type of film it goes with. Given one of the tracks is "Atchafalaya," and the music is jazz, perhaps it's a story set in Louisiana, a state that has plenty of hard knocks but always seems to be celebrating. Just take a look at a jazz funeral.

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