When two different worlds amalgamate as one, the possibilities are endless. In the case of Dutch jazz/pop orchestra Metropole Orkest and New York jazz/rock collective Snarky Puppy, the two collectives aren’t the most extreme contrasts of one another, but are definitely two separate entities. When they combine forces, they make one truly enthralling album, Sylva. Sylva is an album that was built for the eclectic music lover – there are multiple styles and stylistic influences in play throughout its versatile course. It is this musical restlessness, not to mention the accomplished musicians themselves that make Sylva among the most notable albums of 2015 regardless of genre.
“Sintra” kicks off Sylva ‘classically’ with the dramatic strings of the Metropole Orkest building intensity, setting the tone. After the percolation occurs, “Sintra” asserts its jazzier persona, with Latin groove anchoring things down. “Sintra” is strictly orchestral-based jazz, proving to be the most structured song of the album sans improvised solos. Even though its scored nature doesn’t allow for much freedom, “Sintra” foreshadows the illustrious ride that is to commence.
“Flight” is much looser than “Sintra”, spreading its wings and flying beyond the notes on the page. The funkier side of Snarky Puppy – the ‘snarky’ persona – begins to reveal itself as the song progresses. Organ adds a soulful dimension behind a gritty saxophone solo, characterized by its cracks and unfettered emotion. Later on, electric piano and organ trade solos, keeping the momentum piping hot. What’s even more amazing is that as strong as “Flight” is, the full realization of Sylva has yet to be fully unleashed.
The funky, Dixieland-infused trombone/percussion combination at the start of the infectious “Atchafalaya” gives the album one of its most elite moments. Suitably, there’s a trombone solo over the foot-tapping groove that screams Pentecostal church service. Raucous trombone shifts to slick shedding electric guitar, bringing more of a rock/fusion jazz sensibility. Showcasing an affinity for stylistic shifts, by the close of “Atchafalya”, following a brief, lush orchestral section to contrast the ruckus Dixieland/fusion, impressive, yet dizzying lines conclude the valedictory cut to rousing applause from the live audience.
“The Curtain” doesn’t ‘kill the vibe’ in the least. The Metropole Orkest shine at the beginning as the majority of the first minute could be excerpted from the slower movement of a symphony. Assertive, pummeling drums change the tide, while mixed meter brilliantly plays the fine line between modern classical and jazz. Once the soloing begins via trumpet, the music is poised initially, before beginning to pull away and soaring to dramatic heights. The scored portions coupled with the improvisatory elements work stunning throughout, often serving as inspiration for the freer, improvised facets. Among the coolest portions of “The Curtain” are the trombone driven, off-kilter funk section that roars like a lion and the killer keyboard solo. Then throw in the modern era classically driven piano solo for good measure and “The Curtain” is another magnificent piece of art.
“Gretel” clocks in much more conservatively than “Curtain”, but there’s still ample musical goodness – those biting trombones and that irresistible groove! The upper strings of “Gretel” tug at your heartstrings, drenched in emotion, while the taste of organ can’t be discounted, particularly towards the end. The crescendos within “Gretel” are among the most dynamic and potent of the effort, growing infinitely.
“The Clearing” concludes Sylva as terrifically as it began. Instantly, there are two opposing styles – orchestral/classical against rock simulated by the guitar. The mix is breathtaking to say the least. Only after two and half-minutes in does the jazz assert itself, taking great care to pacing. Throughout the 20-minute joint, Metropole Orkest and Snarky Puppy take the listener on multiple trips. With each listen, it’s easy to hear something new not previously heard before.
In essence, Sylva provides something that so many modern albums don’t – it shows the full range of possibilities that music can offer to both musicians themselves as well as the fans. Sylva excels in both its subtlest and its most ornate moments, which is a testament to its soundness and ultimately its exceptionalness. Neither Metropole Orkest or Snarky Puppy misses the mark here – they simply play the music the way that music should be played Sylva is spirited and maybe more importantly, it restores faith to those who thought the originality in music had slipped, never to be reclaimed.