KARL DENSON AT JAZZ FEST

Friday, May 4th, 2001
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was one of the hottest tickets at Jazz Fest this year, selling out three of his five shows in New Orleans. My journey into this Tiny Universe began at the Howlin' Wolf on Friday evening with Mike Clark's Prescription Renewal featuring Robert Walter (Greyboy Allstars, 20th Congress) on keyboards, Mike Clark (Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters) on drums, George Porter (Meters, Runnin' Pardners) on bass, Karl Denson (Greyboy Allstars, KDTU) on sax, and Brian Jordan (KDTU) on guitar.

The set began with a great groove that allowed each artist to showcase his talents. The entire band allowed each other to take several solos during the first set, and with their talents showcased, George Porter began to sing the classic "Waiting For My Ya Ya." The band was all smiles as they looked into the dancing crowd that was singing the lyrics to the song. Each member took incredible solos and this became the highlight of the five song first set. To see these five funk masters laying it down on the stage was simply amazing.

The second set began with a great version "Get Out My Life Woman," that segued into another jam before the band layed down this heavy Blues number. Second set found Brian Jordan missing from guitar, but this great Blues gutarist from Chicago was lending his guitar and vocal talents. After a few more bars of the blues the band went into "Chameleon." A familiar tune to most of the crowd, everyone was shakin' as the Howlin' Wolf had become packed with Funky Music lovers. The show billed as the Funk Summit was no let down. I could have listend to these guys play all night long. Though they all play in different bands, it seemed as if these guys had played together for an entire lifetime. The styles, the solos, the energy... it was all there. Wanting decent seats at the House of Blues, we slipped out early to make the KDTU show that was to follow.

Friday, May 4th (technically May 5th), 2001 | Late Night
Filling the House of Blues to capacity, we were packed in like sardines. Once the band took the stage, it didn't matter as this sea of people began to groove to that funky beat. KDTU started the night off with "Make It A Cosmopolitan" followed by "The Bridge." The new tune "Walt's First Trip," a horn driven funk jam, was next on the list followed by a funk rendition of Jimmy Hendirx's "Spanish Castle Magic" that had the crowd screaming for more. Karl's sax turned into Jimmy's guitar and I swear I saw sparks coming from that brass. Brian Jordan's fingers running up and down the fret of his guitar was filling the air with Hendrix's sounds. Once the crowd came to their scences, "Satsified," a funky dance tune that in my opinion, could get some good radio play, was played followed by "Inner Crisis." This song featured the raw talents of sax man Andy Cleaves who traded licks with Karl himself. Out of "Inner Crisis," Karl took a mean flute solo that segued into "Fallin'," also know as the "Bar-B-Q Song." Always dedicated to the ladies, the crowd was shaking the balcony at the House of Blues. Fallin' had a nice saxophone solo that continued into the New Orleans classic "When The Saints Come Marching In" with Ari from Cabaret Diosa on Baritone Sax. This added some nice NOLA flava to the Funk sounds of the Tiny Universe. Fallin was followed by another jam before the band went off the stage to take a much needed break.

Second set began with a BANG as the stage was filled with HOT SAX. Hope C. from Deep Banana Blackout, Cochemea Gastelum from Robert Walter's 20th Congress, KC Benjamin from Project Logic, Ari from Cabaret Diosa as well as Karl Denson were on stage with sax in hand. Mike Clark had taken over the drum kit, and Chuck Prada had replaced EJ Rodrigez on percussion. The first song of the second set was "Seepage At The Fox." A song that was written about a bathroom seepage problem at the Fox Theater that happened during the recording of the KDTU shows. "Seepage at The Fox" starts out as this free form acid jazz jam. It was amazing seeing these artist on stage blowing their hearts out. Seepage segued into a jam that let every player showcase their talent. Most impressive to me were Ari from Caberet Diosa on that HUGE baritone sax and KC Benjamin from Project Logic. Mike Clark was layin' the beat and the funk was doing more than seeping from Eric's drum kit, it was pouring out of the speakers, monitors and sound system. It must have taken them days to clean up the mess.

After this ALL-STAR SAX jam, Karl brought to the stage two lovely looking ladies from the Paulette's(?) to sing back up vocals during "Can You Feel It." KC Benjamin was playing the sax with Mike Clark still on dums. The Paulette's were good, but never got a chance to shine. They held the backing vocals well, but I really wanted to hear these girls sing lead vocals. The next song featured was the new Karl Denson's album title track Dance Lesson #2. DJ Logic's turntable skills were featured during this song. Logic's fills were perfect for the space let for him by Karl. "Dance Lesson #2" was followed by "Who Are You." This track is featured on the Blue Note CD sampler, One Label Under a Groove, as well as the Jazz Fest CD sampler, and it can also be found on the new Karl Denson album. Logic again was featured along with the tight stylings of Brian Jordan. "Who Are You" was jammed out bringing the crowd into a frenzy right before the music stopped.

At this time Karl introduced Hope C., KC Benjamin, DJ Logic, Ari, and Johnny Durkin from Deep Banana Blackout on percussions before taking the band and guest on a "Rump Winder" journey. Again there were several sick sax exchanges, and an amazing flute solo by Hope C. She was doing this scat thing in between hitting notes on the flute. I have seen this before, but Hope was on the money with this exchange. She had all band members looking at each other on stage in amazement. They all exchanged smiles as Hope added her own flava to this funky sound. I like to think she helped to step up the next song with her furious flute solo. "Tar Baby" was next to end the evening, but not before Karl and KC exchanged sax licks that left my jaw on the floor. The crowd was screaming for an encore in the House Of Rules, but the bright lights were turned on, blinding the crowd, as they pushed us out the door. When the evening was over, I was glad to have tickets for the next nights show.

Saturday, May 5 (technically May 6), 2001 | Late Night
Leaving the Galactic show early to drive to the Garden District, we still waited in a long line on either side of Tipitina's entrance. This place was packed for what was being billed as Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Friends. With the start of the first set, I knew it was going to be a huge night. As KDTU took to the stage, Lenny Kravitz emerged from the side with axe in hand. The band jammed into "Who Are You" and as the jam kept going, Karl and Lenny started singing the Sly and the Family Stone line "Thank you falettinme be mice elf agin." This jam lasted for some time with Lenny on guitar and Karl tearin' it up on the sax. "Soul Drifter" followed with an insane solo from Brian Jordan. At one time I thought Lenny would showcase his guitar skills to the screaming crowd, but was happy to sit back and let the rest of the band shine. Lenny never did take that mean solo, but opted to play rhythm the entire evening.

Next came the very popular "KDTU Universal Mind Expansion." This song, featuring the crazy stylings of David Veith on keys, is slow BUT funky, and it allows for David to manipulate his keys in such away that I felt I was being abducted by aliens, good aliens. At the end of this song, Lenny un-hooked his axe and got behind Eric Bolivars drum kit for an improve funk jam. Lenny was keepin' the funky beat while the rest of the band jammed out before the end of this set.

Upon the return of the band, Lenny came out again with his guitar. The second set started with the afro beat song dedicated to Femi Kuti, "Elephants Are Big as Hell." This is one of my favorite Karl songs right now with it's fast heavy Afro-funk beat. Karl and Andy's horn work was tight and in unison. Lenny was playing rhythm while Brian was toying with the crowd. It was during the jam in this song that Karl and Lenny had the crowd chanting "I am everyday people." I don't know if it was a Sly b-day or anniversary, but the theme was evident. Shortly after coming out of this jam, Lenny dropped his axe to again get behind the drum kit to play "Chi-town Break Down" (a.k.a. Chicago Breakdown). Brian took a furious solo before letting Karl take control. "Check Your Mind" was next with Ron Johnson's EVIL bass line. Having heard this song played by several bands, I like that KDTU has taken this song and added their own style. When you first hear them play this song, you have no idea they are covering "Check Your Mind." Karl rips into a huge flute solo while Ron lays down the dirty, evil, funk bass line. Having seen the Houseman cover this song with KDTU last Halloween, the arrangement was completely different. Lenny was on guitar for "Check Your Mind," and the next song, James Brown's "Big Pay Back."

You couldn't move in Tipitina's as booty's were moving everywhere. The floor was soaked in sweat as people were dancing to the sounds of James Brown. With the sound of the horns, JB is the perfect thing to end the set. The crowd went crazy for an encore. Lenny came back, but seemed less than enthusiastic during the encore. It was obvious he did not know the song as he sat down on his amp and tried to get into the groove. Towards the end of the song he was rushed off stage, I assume because of the girls who were going crazy in front, and beside the stage. Karl ended the night with his "Groove On" as he thanked everyone for a great turn out at the fest. Karl's next gig was later that evening at the Howlin' Wolf. After his show at the Wolf, he was seen hanging out at the Soulive show that happened at the House of Blues Parish House. Part owner Jim Belushi was also seen at this show.

The hardest working man in show business has conquered New Orleans but there's no time to rest now. Karl Denson is currently on tour and his new CD, Dance Lesson #2, has just been released. Sleep is the enemy! - KD

BiLL from PHLORiDA
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[Published on: 5/9/01]

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