Groundup Music (label)
30 September 2022 (released)
Empire Central is a double album, recorded live with eight original tracks on each disc. With three guitarists, three drummers and other percussionists, keyboards, bass, electric violin, and countless brass players the music is at once complicated, but full of warmth, and a certain sense of freedom in the tracks, in spite of the number of players that make up each tune.
As well playing and arranging the music, the tunes themselves are also written by members of the band. Owing a certain debt to the funk jazz sounds of the 1970’s, pieces such as the brass heavy Cliroy by Jay Jennings have an expansive almost televisual quality to them, whereas the tough hip hop beat of Take It! by Bobby Sparks features strong musicianship, funky rhythm guitars, and a soundscape that takes influence from the streets, as well as the music schools that many of the talented players attended.
There are many brass solos, as well as a rock edge provided by the guitars. As a concert, and as a recording much thought has gone into the music and the recording. Although many of the tracks stretch out, there is enough interest in the tunes that they rarely outstay their welcome, with some crowd noise also included to show the nature of the recording.
Of the two albums, Disc two is probably the liveliest, with the funk undertones of the opening Mean Green by Nate Werth setting the standards for the rest of the disc. The interplay of the three guitarists, keyboards, and the catchy central brass riff adding to a foot-tapping beast of a sound. Bill Laurance’s Fuel City has a more claustrophobic sound, with a haunting 70’s like keyboard part, and some fluid Prophet keyboard playing.
As well as the influence of jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, and any number of Jazz Fusion Pioneers, there is also a certain debt to new age music, with some of the keyboard parts sounding like an updated Mike Oldfield.
The aim of the album is to put together a set that has enough musical interest, different moods, and the showcasing of Snarky Puppy’s sound as a collective to good effect. Empire Central sits well together as both a recording, and as a showcase for the band’s live sound, and shows the type of sound that twenty or so talented musicians can make when playing on a stage together.