The Grammy Award-winning, instrumental fusion band Snarky Puppy has made quite the name for itself with an extensive catalog of live video and audio recordings. Building a dedicated fan base along the way, the rotating “family” of more than 40 session musicians has made some big strides in R&B and jazz in only a few short years.
The group’s most recent release, “We Like It Here,” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes jazz charts, and their rendition of “Something” with vocalist Lalah Hathaway earned a 2014 Grammy for Best R&B Performance.
Mobile will get a taste of the talent as some of Snarky Puppy’s key members present the “The Detour,” at Soul Kitchen, Wednesday, Feb. 4, a show consisting of three separate acts: Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Ghost-Note and the Mark Lettieri Trio.
Cory Henry is an accomplished and awarding-winning organ and keyboard player that has lent his skills to a myriad of artists including Sara Bareilles, P. Diddy, Kirk Franklin, Michael McDonald, Boyz 2 Men, NAS, Bruce Springsteen, The Roots and many others.
Lettieri is a well-versed guitar player skilled in multiple styles who has made a name for himself outside of Snarky Puppy playing with neo-soul icon Erykah Badu and a host of others. He’s also made a splash in the instrumental guitar world, having released two albums of his own, “Knows” and “Futurefun,” with a third currently in the works.
Ghost-Note, featuring percussionist Nate Werth and drummer Robert “Sput” Searight, have been called the heartbeat of Snarky Puppy. The two typically make up part of the rhythm section that gives the band its dynamic sound, and Ghost-Note is an all percussion show that captures the melody through the pairs’ intertwined and multi-styled grooves.
Each of the three groups are fundamentally different, but are rooted in the same love for instrumental music, and Lettieri recently told Lagniappe each musician has a chance to showcase their own sound, with support from their regular touring mates.
“Calling it ‘The Detour’ suggests taking an alternate route from what we normally do with Snarky Puppy, but still ultimately getting us to the same place,” Lettieri explained. “We’re not the only guys in the band that have solo or side projects, but recently we’ve been talking about making this package deal that showcases three groups that are related to Snarky Puppy, but sound completely different from one another. It’s a cool thing for the fans because we’re related, but still unrelated in our own right.”
Though he’s from northern California, Lettieri considers himself a Dallas guy — it’s where he cut his teeth in the music industry. The members of the Mark Lettieri Trio on “The Detour” reflect his Texas influence.
Wes Stephenson (bass) of the Funky Knuckles and TaRon Lockett (drums) will be backing Lettieri during the stop in Mobile. Both have been involved in previous collaborations with the guitarist.
“I don’t really have a band so to speak, it’s just a stable of guys that all know my music and I’ll sort of just put them all in different combinations,” Lettieri said. “It’s really just a bunch of Dallas guys that have playing together for years. The Mark Lettieri Trio is just what I call it when there’s three of us, and the (Mark Lettieri) Group is what I call it when I can find four.”
Though he’s been playing guitar since he was 11, Lettieri took a different path compared to most jazz guitarists. He originally moved to Texas to run track and field at Texas Christian University, where he majored in advertising. But after his track meets and classes were finished, Lettieri was gigging and getting his feet wet in the Dallas music scene.
Like many college graduates, Lettieri didn’t exactly have a job waiting on him after he got his diploma, which presented him with a chance to try and make “this music thing” work.
“Playing guitar was always my passion, but it wasn’t until maybe the end of my time in college I realized I could turn it into a career,” he said. “When you’re a kid, you think every professional musician must be a rock star, but then I was able to figure out there’s this thing called being a freelance musician. Trying to figure out how to make a living doing this actually takes more time than anything.”
Because he wanted to keep the income incoming, Lettieri expanded his versatility as a guitar player. More styles meant more gigs, which in turn meant more money.
He started working on his studio chops while he also began to cater to the gospel scene. While playing with Myron Butler, Lettieri shared the stage a few times with Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s founder and bassist. Then, for a while, he toured alongside Snarky Puppy while playing guitar for trumpeter Philip Lassiter’s group.
“We were all just a bunch of white boys getting involved with the gospel scene,” Lettieri said. “Snarky Puppy had been a band for a little while before I joined, so there was a year of me watching them be awesome. Then they were finally like, ‘OK, you can play with us.’”
When he hasn’t been on the road with the “Fam,” Lettieri became a sought-after studio guitarist, working with artists like 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Adam Levine, Keyshia Cole and others. Most of that work came through his involvement with Team SKP, a production collective led by award-winning producer Symbolyc One.
“He has an interesting dynamic. Sometimes he’s really specific about what he wants on a track, and other times he says, ‘here you go, go do your thing.’” Lettieri said. “It’s almost like a blank canvas and anything goes. It’s cool, because a lot of hip-hop stuff today has a fair amount of rock and indie rock guitar stuff being brought in.”
Though the members of all three bands in The Detour have been playing together for years, Lettieri said he, Henry and Ghost-Nate all intend to focus on their own original sounds as they visit venues around the country. Or at least they’re going to try.
“I want to showcase our composition as much as I can,” Lettieri said. “We’re trying to stay away from a big jam session, but I think the crowds are going to expect to see something like that. The cool thing is, the stage is going to be set up the same for all three acts, so if I turn around and Cory is on keys, I’m not going to kick him off.”
Doors open at Soul Kitchen on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at soulkitchenmobile.com for $10 or at the door for $12.
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