Karl Denson has got to be the hardest working man in show business.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Medeski, Martin & Wood came to town this weekend for the opening of their tour together with two nights at the Fillmore in Denver. MMW headlined on the first night and KDTU on the second.
The first night Karl took the stage solo to warm up the crowd. Ron
Johnson on the bass followed and laid down some grooves over Karl's easy tones. It didn't take long for the rest of the band to follow, and even less time for them to hit full throttle in unison. This band has gotten tighter and tighter and this 2 day run showed me they can get loose with the best of them and still maintain the cohesiveness needed to FUNK it out. Even though the first night was an opener, the band wasted no time laying down the full funk and rocking out with heavy heavy guitar grooves courtesy of the smooth licks of Brian Jordan. The first night definitely was a Brian Jordan night. As I said, this was an opener for MMW, but they easily out-played MMW, with out really trying. They played a lot of the 'newer' tunes, of which I don't know many names. Karl is the master of the 'Drop Down'.
The band gets everyone up in a frenzy of dancing and then with out warning, they drop out the bottom, but they never let you hit the ground. Like the Super Dooper Looper, you go screaming down the hill then get a nice soft turn that sends you back up to the Loop. Its all about the slow down. Sudden, but never jerky. Smooth. Tight.
MMW took the stage round 10 and went right into a free jazz explosion. Medeski, bald dome and all, was a mad man right from the get go. Hitting the keys with wild swinging arms and at one point it looked like he was playing one keyboard with his foot and banging on the other with both paws. I hadn't seen MMW since moving to Colorado 3
years ago and I kind of forgot that Medeski used to be my favorite
keyboard player. He is amazing. So is Chris Wood, a Boulder native
as we were told 3-4 times over the weekend, and Billy Martin's
drumming is always impressive. My problem with MMW is that they too
often melt down into white noise and don't bring it back with enough
regularity. This may work fine at the Knitting Factory, but at a venue as large as the Fillmore, it falls on deaf ears in the back and causes a lot of stirring in the crowd. The Fillmore had about 2,500 or so show up the first night and I have to say, it was way too big of a room for MMW.
The highlight of the show was the "Bubblehouse" encore with Karl. The song started out, again, very free jazzy and spacy. It highlighted Karl's prowess on the saxophone, showing his range of skills. He easily hung with MMW trading jazzy licks for 5-6 minutes in a circular, fill in sort of way. But then Karl started to get funky and was belting out the deep tones as the band converged into the thick of "Bubblehouse" and the place erupted. Again, I was impressed. MMW is a very very talented band. They do what they do better then anyone. They have the live Acid Jazz thing down to a science. (Sector 9 would be Sector 4 with out MMW being there to get help them over the first 5 Sectors) The fact that Karl can go up there, first show of the tour and play note for note with these guys really blew me away.
The second night was a sell out. Karl headlining and the rumor of
a 'special guest' made the freaks come out in mass numbers. MMW's
opener was even more 'Surrender to the Air'-esq then the previous night. It was nice that it was the opener this time around. Karl's set was a bit late starting. They took about an hour between sets to get going and when he did come out, he said something about technical
difficulties. Again, Karl came out first. Never one to need a big
warm up a la George Clinton or any Reggae band, he and Chris Wood
(Boulder Native) on his acoustic stand up bass started us off.
Karl explained that Wood had sat in on KDTU's album and then he and Chris decided to record a Bass and Sax album together alone.
The first song was a nice jazz tune. As the duo traded licks, the rest of the band made its way up to the stage and on cue, with Wood doing the intro, the whole band fell into the Jam and rocked right into "Perfect Swing." Tight. Saturday's set was not nearly as tight as the previous nights, but it was all about the JAM. Even though KDTU is a funk band, its not hard to understand why they get lumped into the 'Jam Band' genre. They know how to Jam. Hands down. The set really showcased KDTU's range, going from traditional jazz to Swing Time, to Free jazz, to FUNK, always back to funk, then to a Techno groove and back again. Not many played out songs this night either.
"Fallin'" was in the middle of the set somewhere. About two thirds of the way through the set, Michael Kang took the stage. It was not a total surprise as many had seen him setting up during sound check before the Karl set started. He played for about 15-20 minutes. This was the full on rocking part of the set from what my clouded mind can remember. He and Brian Jordan were going back and fourth with the wa-wa licks. MMW joined the fray soon after and finished off the show.
"Check out Your Mind" was the encore. This song went from tight KDTU
to loose MMW, back and fourth a few times. The crowd seemed to love it in the first 20 rows at least. The trancy techno was the under current with Karl's vocals tripping out with a little echo.
By the end of just one KDTU set, I felt like I'd been beat down, even
though it was only 12:30! It just seems to me that no matter if Karl's playing one long set after flying in from Japan, or if he
shows up at 4a.m. after being on a Jet in a snowstorm from NYC, he
always earns his money. Never leaving you disappointed, Karl sweats
his ass off up there and always seems to want to give you more.
And I'll take it.
Michael B Sutch
JamBase Colorado Correspondent
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