It’s so hard to write a review about a band that’s as unique as Snarky Puppy. It’s just so rare to see a band who’ve simply release album after album with practically universal acclaim. That ridiculously frustrating paradox to make something that’s so incredibly virtuosic and creative, but still crucially accessible to the masses, which makes Snarky Puppy what it is. A seamless combination of groove with a level of technicality and finesse which most can’t even begin to comprehend, with a dash of humour in there for good measure. And for their tenth offering of musical insanity, they’ve decided to mash together their troupe of incredible musicians with additional groups of incredible musicians: the sequel.
Family Dinner Volume II not only provides us with even more flavours from the jazz fusion family, but simply delivers this sound even more successfully with the addition of even more special guests, which still works… somehow. Snarky Puppy are not exactly short of genres with their latest offering either; when you add in the Peruvian-Latin stylings of Susana Baca, new age songstress Laura Mvula, and the legendary David Crosby you can’t argue that this album isn’t eclecticism at its finest. Folk singer Becca Stevens alongside guest instrumentalists from Väsen provide a particularly haunting opening track; every artist is given their chance to shine, but it never comes close to compromising such a clean and effectively sparse sound.
Following on from that, it’s hard not to expect a “too many cooks” situation with this sort of thing, but when every corner of an album is so incredibly polished, it’s hard to even know what to think with an album like this. But then that begs the question, especially when they’ve brought in musical demi-gods such as Jacob Collier into the fray, where their knowledge of musicality verges on the mathematical, is any of that inherent “groove” lost?
Well, it’s arguable. Taking Collier’s collaboration as an example, it’s just the sort of thing you’d expect to just be overwhelmingly technical and almost forced, as if the very anticipation for such a collab will give any sort of result an ultimately disappointing finished product. But even with a Collier-Snarky tag team of ridiculous harmonies and musical intellect, they still (somehow) manage to make it work. It needs to be heard to be believed, but it has to be to do with the way that this supergroup of sorts doesn’t even begin to use this setup as a gimmicky wall of jazzy chords. If anything, things on the technical side are restrained a lot more than on previous records; the groove is priority, and that’s what we like.
In short then, the New York game-changers have done it yet again, and crawling through their records to find any morsel of criticism still proves futile, making this yet another frustratingly good album. To the annoyance of musicians and music-lovers alike, it’s all in place for the pups. And we love that.