Saturday, January 2, 2016

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe at Irving Plaza

Karl Denson
Karl Denson grew up in San Diego and Santa Ana, California. Working as a funk and jazz saxophonist, flutist and vocalist, Denson met Lenny Kravitz during a recording session in 1988, and then played in Kravitz's touring band and on three albums. When Kravitz let go of the horns in 1992, Denson embarked on a solo recording career in jazz. In 1994, he also became one of the founders of San Diego's boogaloo revivalists Greyboy Allstars and its acid jazz grooves. The band dissolved after three years and Denson formed a new band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe (KDTU). KDTU presently includes Denson, guitarists D.J. Williams and Chris Mule, keyboardist David Veith, trumpeter Chris Littlefield, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Alan Evans. The band's third and most recent album, New Ammo, was released in 2014. In recent years, Denson also has played sax in the Rolling Stones, Slightly Stoopid and the Karl Densen Trio (KD3).

Headlining a Phish New Year's night after-party at Irving Plaza tonight, Denson and company came on stage in the wee hours and played into the morning hours. Rooted in hip-moving funk and soul, the band sounded very much like the revue bands that supported old-time rhythm and blues vocalists. The set was comprised largely of originals and most were instrumentals, but also included covers of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," Band of Gypsys' "Power of Soul," and for an encore, a reworked version of the Mission: Impossible theme. Most of Denson's work was on the tenor saxophone, although he occasionally sang and towards the end he played his flute. The strength of the set was that the compositions' loose structures allowed for many dynamic solos and energetic jams. The occasional vocals served only to give random identity and melody to the more prominent and extended instrumentation; had the vocals or lyrics been emphasized, the set would have been a much different kind of performance. This was a 1970s funk jam revival.

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