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The New Cool: Snarky Puppy Charms Seattle

Photo by Freudian Slurp guitarist Ian Hughes.
Snarky Puppy feels the love from their fans at Seattle's Moore Theater.

The entry to Seattle's Moore Theater is surrounded by scaffolding as the old building's facelift continues, inside the hall Snarky Puppy was doing a bit of construction of their own. They're building a new kind of instrumental music, and they've already built a fan base who love what they hear.

Snarky Puppy formed in 2004, made up largely of students and grads of the highly respected jazz program at the University of North Texas. Somewhere around 40 musicians worked in and out of the group in their early days, the tour last weekend brought bassist and band-leader Michael League's 9-member group.

Now based in New York, the collective has exploded on the music scene in recent years, pointed to by many critics as one of the most important groups in modern jazz. But putting a genre label on this band is more difficult than that, just look at the categories where they've won Grammy awards - Best R&B Performance in 2014 and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in '16 and '17.

That seems to be just what their fans want, as Snarky Puppy flowed effortlessly from dance-club funk tunes to latin-flavored grooves, jam band explorations and more compositional movie score vibes. The audience at The Moore ranged from the 6-year-old sitting behind me to the older cats in their 60s, and they all sat in rapt attention, cheering wildly for every solo and crescendo.

Some minor criticism - I didn't hear some of their catchy tunes we play on The New Cool. That didn't seem to be an issue to my fellow fans. Also, having been spoiled with opportunities to see jazz legends like Arturo Sandoval, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock and others, I think there's room for these talented 30-somethings to improve.

That said, Snarky Puppy continues to blaze at least one path for followers of their fearless genre blender albums and live performances. One future-forward feature, you can follow the band's tour virtually by downloading recordings of just about every live show they play.

One of my favorite side benefits of this group is the output of excellent off-shoot albums from Snarky Puppy's talented musicians. Check out keys player Cory Henry, or spin off bands Forq and Ghost Note for different aspects of the collective. Michael League's own "side-project" is called Bokanté.

Bokanté combines West African styles with heavy blues, and features lyrics in Creole and French, built from layer upon layer of simple ideas that become complex as they grow. The band itself, named after the Creole word for "exchange", includes Snarky Puppy percussionist Keita Ogawa and guitarists Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti, adding steel guitar player Roosevelt Collier. Two more percussionists fill out the band's incredibly rhythmic sound - Jamey Haddad of Paul Simon's band, and Andre Ferrari of the Swedish art pop band Väsen.

Young French-born, Montreal-based singer Malika Tirolien adds the strongest spice. Her voice, often looped and layered multiple times, is distinct and powerful with a command of the exotic French and Creole lyrics. On this week's New Cool, you'll hear a song Tirolien wrote with Bokanté called "O La", a spooky tale (in French) of a cruel intruder who gets justice in the end.

Also coming your way on the show Saturday at 3, the latest from the Barrett Martin Group with CD give aways (and news of his upcoming shows), the latest from guitarist Julian Lage, GoGo Penguin's KNKX studio session performance from last year, and plenty more. Connect to the New Cool Facebook page for more coolness!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.