As Snarky Puppy, the open-minded American jazz and funk collective, have evolved a riproaring live show from endless road life, they’ve specialised in live albums. However, their fans worldwide need not fear that a first studio project in eight years might be a self-conscious affair: it’s a delightful surprise to be handing five stars to a jazz-influenced venture with little explicit improv. The group have grasped a different improvising opportunity, juggling audaciously with the styles of jazz, world and popular music of the past half-century as if their typical riffs and themes were phrases in a shapely but ever-changing solo.
The musical reach of bassist Michael League's compositions allows for dynamic group interplay as well improvisation and exploration. Things get off to a roaring, funky start on "Tarova," with all 17 members shaking it down led by organ, Rhodes piano, fat, thrumming bass, hot snare breaks, swinging violin, and blazing horns that touch on everything from Muscle Shoals to East Indian modalism to Southern gospel. "Semente," alternately, is a Latin jazz workout that nods at Mexican bandleader Luis Arcaraz's mariachi-inspired lyricism combined with Afro-Cuban rhythms and Northern Soul with its killer string chart.