Album review: Snarky Puppy’s ‘Family Dinner – Volume 2’

Jan. 31, 2016, 9:48 p.m.
(Courtesy of Snarky Puppy)
(Courtesy of Snarky Puppy)

Last Sunday, filmmaker Andy LaViolette responded to a press inquiry I had sent weeks ago, belatedly inviting me to attend the screening of Snarky Puppy’s new album/DVD, “Family Dinner – Volume 2,” which is set for release on February 12th. It was early in the evening when I read his email, and the showing was set for 10 p.m. that night at Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco. I forced my midterms, problem sets and papers out of my mind and planned my trip, regretting nothing.

“Family Dinner” is both a series of films from the recording studio and a how-it’s-made documentary about the artistic process behind each song. It also weaves together a thoughtful commentary on love and the lifting power of music through talking head interviews and unplugged musical interludes. It’s undergirded by a strong sense of community and giving, as proceeds from the album benefit the New Orleans based Roots of Music project to empower underprivileged youth.

The album is also entirely focused on its guests. Snarky Puppy’s hospitality creates a platform of musical and cultural exchange by bringing together guests from all over the world, coming from as far as Sweden and Peru (bandleader Michael League even brings his recording crew to a private island in Mali when his desired guest, Salif Keita, is unable to make the trip to the New Orleans studio).

Jacob Collier performing his unreleased composition, "Don't You Know." (Photograph by Stella K.)
Jacob Collier performing his unreleased composition, “Don’t You Know.” (Photograph by Stella K.)

There’s no requisite age, either. Before launching into his tear-jerking ballad, “Somebody Home,” 74-year-old David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) pokes fun at his fellow guest, 20-year-old Jacob Collier, by musing on what might happen to the wunderkind’s priorities “when the hormones kick in.” You see Michael League and the rest of the band laughing in the background, but Crosby, like all of the guests, is the star.

Likewise, the interviews scattered between performances put the spotlight on the guests, with League asking questions from behind the camera. Snarky Puppy’s background role allows their friends — singers, instrumentalists and overall phenoms — to share their unrestrained personal genius.

One standout cut is a breathtaking collaboration between American jazz/folk singer Becca Stevens and the Swedish folk trio Väsen. Their performance of “I Asked” is the first single released in advance of the album, and like every Snarky Puppy song recorded in the past five years, it’s available on YouTube in its full cinematic form. Snarky Puppy’s trademark combination of live recording and filming means that everything you see in the final product was produced in one, uninterrupted take. It all happens with a studio audience embedded into the studio setup, too.

Laura Mvula performing her single "Sing to the Moon." (Photograph by Stella K.)
Laura Mvula performing her single “Sing to the Moon.” (Photograph by Stella K.)

It’s a thrill to watch such talented musicians perform in perfect harmony and take daring, improvised solos, and to see the unfiltered, joyful reactions of the audience as they experience the music in real time. During British singer Laura Mvula’s mesmerizing ballad, “Sing to the Moon,” each of Snarky Puppy’s star pianists — Bill Laurance, Cory Henry, Shaun Martin and Justin Stanton — takes a solo, leaving more than a few people in the theater and on the screen in blissful shock. Other highlights are Chris Turner’s sultry rendition of his R&B original, “Liquid Love,” and “Molino Molero,” a heavily syncopated Afro-Peruvian piece by the legendary Susana Baca.

I was lucky to share these moments with other fans in a packed theater. It was a late showing that would stretch into early Monday morning, yet every seat was filled. During the film, I looked around and saw people like me, shaking their heads in disbelief, shouting with joy and dancing in their seats. Moreover, I realized that I recognized some of them from other Snarky Puppy shows in San Francisco over the years.

During the post-screening Q&A with Michael League and guitarist Chris McQueen, one person stood up to say that he didn’t have a question, but, as he choked up over his words, he just wanted the duo to know how beautiful the music was, and that it really moved him. The audience cheered, because he spoke for many. It was a moment I was glad to share, and it was a testament to the sense of community — of family — that Snarky Puppy so skillfully crafts through their music.


“Family Dinner – Volume 2” comes out on February 12th. You can order the CD, DVD, or vinyl at, and both the album and film will be available for download online.

Contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’

Benjamin Sorensen covers jazz for the Arts & Life section of the Stanford Daily. He is a junior from Stanford, California studying political science with interests in Chinese and music. He enjoys playing guitar, talking about music, and wishing he could sing. Contact him at bcsoren ‘at’

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