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Words by: Erik Koral
Karl Denson is one of the hardest working men in show business. Over the course of his career, the revered saxophone and flute player has played with Lenny Kravitz and formed several successful bands of his own including The Greyboy Allstars, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and now his new project, KD3: The Karl Denson Trio. Denson's roots are in jazz, but he's also played rock, funk, groove-jazz, hip-hop, and soul for the last two decades. Denson shows no signs of slowing down and is excited to be releasing new music with The Greyboy Allstars this month and a debut album from his new group KD3 in June. He's touring with The Greyboy Allstars throughout April and May in support of the new record and will tour with KD3 from June throughout the rest of the year.
Karl Denson by Brad Hodge
JamBase caught up with Karl Denson in Los Angeles, CA when he was as a special guest with the Benny D Band from New Orleans.
JamBase: The last time we sat down with you was late in 2004 when Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was in the middle of nonstop touring and headlining sold out shows at venues like The Fillmore in San Francisco. What made you decide to put the band on hiatus in 2006?
Karl Denson: We simply couldn't get a record done. We went through a lot of changes in the last couple of years, from new management to lineup changes, and there were a lot of different ideas about where the band was heading. We wrote a lot of tunes but couldn't really find ourselves, and I decided to put it to bed so we could get the next record done before we toured anymore.
JamBase: Ron Johnson is touring with New Monsoon, and John Staten is touring with a new band called On the One. Chris Littlefield, David Veith, and Brian Jordan are touring as Blu Sirkut and are involved with other projects. With everyone being so busy with new bands, do you see Tiny Universe getting back together in the future?
Karl Denson: I'm still in touch with all those guys and everyone is doing well but I really want to focus on getting the record done. So, it's too early to say but it will definitely be a big funk throw-down when it happens!
You're going on a big national tour with The Greyboy Allstars this April and May in support of What Happened to Television? (released April 17 on SCI Fidelity Records. This is the first Greyboy Allstars album to be released in the last ten years. Could you tell us why you decided to get the band back together, record and tour again?
We actually started doing these little reunion tours in 2001 and have been doing them every year since. We finally looked around at each other 18 months ago and decided that we would take all the creative steam out of the group if we didn't stop touring. We had to get back in the studio and make another record. So, in February 2006 we laid down new tracks and we're all really excited about the results. Not only are we excited about the record, but we're excited about the band again. We want to keep touring and adding even more new songs to our catalog.
When The Greyboy Allstars started releasing albums in the mid '90s and playing around the country, fans saw you as a revival of '70s Boogaloo groove-jazz and Grant Green style playing. Do you see this new album being a departure from that style?
No, it is pretty much the same style of music with some more modern elements. But, it's still a great old school record. I think we did a great job of creating something fresh but still has the feel of V-Neck sweaters [laughs]!
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
After this Greyboy tour you will be releasing an album and hitting the road with your new group, KD3: The Karl Denson Trio. Why did you decide to put together this project last year and get back to your jazz roots?
The group was easy to carry around as a trio and it was a chance for me to do more playing and push myself as a sax player. That was my biggest motivation. Whatever I did I wanted it to be an educational experience for me. Playing with Anthony Smith and Brett Sanders, who are great jazz musicians, has been a really fun process. And, writing all this new material and recording has also been a blast.
How much of your new group focuses on improvisation versus composition?
The idea was to focus on improvisation initially but I would say it's still about 50-percent composition and 50-percent improvisation. I like to write so there's still a lot of structure and form to our playing. We are still very much in our infancy as a band. We have a lot of growing to do since we aren't even a year old yet. It's still feeling out who we are as a band and where we want to go.
Karl Denson by Adam George
Who were your big jazz influences in starting this project? Did you want to do an old school John Coltrane sound or a more modern sound like Branford Marsalis?
Neither of those really because I have been writing for so long. I guess my whole thing is wanting to be like Wayne Shorter, who has the perfect balance of playing and writing his own material.