KARL DENSON | 08.09 | SOMERVILLE THEATRE

I remember seeing the Greyboy Allstars play to a Boston crowd about four years ago at a now defunct club, and watching that half full room come to a frenzy more than once that night. It's difficult for me to see Karl Denson's new crew without thinking of that amazing show, and the way things were. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe has toured across this country and has established a respected name. Prior to last nights show at the Somerville Theater, Karl's most recent Boston performance was a free concert on Copley Square presented by the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. A swarm of commuters waiting on trains and buses watched as a lively crowd got down, and asked each other the question, "Who is this guy?"

This was not the question at the Somerville Theater show, where Karl was the main attraction on a blustery Boston night. Fans were immediately appreciative of he blast of air-conditioned atmosphere, cooling off so they could get down. The show started off hot, cooled down, and picked up the pace again all before the first set break. The crowd was a healthy mixture of the tapers, the dancers, and the connoisseurs. Karl's sound was augmented to include the percussionist Mike Dillion (Critters Buggin) and a surprise visit from Danilo Perez, fresh off tour with Wayne Shorter. The septet (octet for a few tunes) churned out the usual variety of danceable hits and jazz melodies. Watching Karl, I got the feeling that his chops on sax and flute have as much influence in the avant-garde, as in the classic funk. Rahasaan Roland Kirk mixed with Maceo Parker, improvasation hand in hand with orchestration.

The first set offered up a few more dance tunes than the second. As an uninformed fan, I was unclear as to what song was what. The set began with some serious funk, raunchy and 70's style. Karl and Andy Cleaves pulled off some amazing call and response bringing the horns to center stage in a friendly duel. The Roundabout, Karl announced, was off his first album in 1992. This brilliant live version, featuring all-star guest Danilo Perez, and David Veith in a four handed funk frenzy, was a beautifully crafted highlight. The jazz changes may have been inspired by the likes of Dizzy, but the tune was pure Denson.

After the break, the crowd had thinned some, but the band took the stage and continued their momentum. The show continued on at a frenzied pace, and while the solos traversed a bit too far off the beat towards the end of the show, it was all for the sake of the jam. The show carried well all the way to the end, and the band left the whole room tired from the non-stop dancing. All in all Karl and his colleagues produced a polished show. Catch these cats when there in your town.

Jeff Bergman
JamBase | Boston, MA
Go See Live Music!


I can't imagine any band playing with more passion or energy than Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. I just got back from their show at the Somerville Theatre on August 9th, 2001, and I was thoroughly blown away, as was the rest of the audience.

The Band:
Karl plays Alto and Tenor sax and flute and is highly technically competent with all three. He plays energetically but at the same time accurately and clearly which allows for a lot of detail and at the same time unflagging intensity in his jams. Brian Jordan is a highly talented guitarist. It's not really noticeable most of the time, when he's really just backing Karl up with some basic theme. But when he jams, which he did pretty frequently last night, he consistently pulled off some masterpieces of improv and drove the crowd wild. Although there wasn't much in the way of jamming from Andy Cleaves on the trumpet, he provided a solid foundation on which Karl and sometimes the others could build. The bassist, Ron Johnson, had some really funky bass lines throughout. Sadly we didn't see much in the way of solos from him, but his playing was good and loud, and certainly essential in keeping a relatively new and somewhat loose (the members are apparently always changing) 7 piece band on the right track. David Veith on the keys also had some nice solos, although he was slightly less energetic than the others. He was occasionally joined or replaced on the keys by the pianist from Panama Danilo Perez. When Perez did get on the keys, he would always rip out a well-timed and well-directed, and at the same time very intense, jam, and considering he hadn't heard most of these songs before, one could say these jams were in the true spirit of jazz improv. Eric Bolivar provided strong rhythm to keep the band in line on the drums, but also had some interesting solos of his own. There was another percussionist on the bongos (I'm partial to the bongos :)) who pulled off a couple fantastic solos, and also entertained the crowd with this nifty trick of rubbing the inside of his metal drum with his shirt, thereby creating a cool squeaky sound.

What really makes this band stand out is, in my opinion, their control over their improv jamming. Each member of the band knows where the soloist is going, as does the soloist, and the soloist knows exactly when to stop, which is really essential in avoiding tedious, drawn out jams - a disease to which most "jam bands" are prone. The band would play 10-20 minute songs in which there would usually be three or four individual jams all cleanly and neatly leading back into the main theme. The music was always going somewhere, and Karl and his crew kept the crowd moving.

The Show Itself:
The first set was very tight. Although there weren't more than a few jams (mostly Karl on the sax and the flute, and Brian Jordan on the guitar), the intensity, unparalleled by any other show I have seen this summer, kept me and the crowd moving throughout. Karl played with a passion and a love for music which the crowd could not help feeling. The music is all exciting and fast-paced, leaving one with a pleasant mood lift. I was a little worried that they wouldn't keep it up for the second set, but how wrong I was. Not only did the second set surpass the first in both intensity and length, but virtually every member of the band played multiple knock-out jams. Brian Jordan had the most on guitar; he was certainly a crowd favorite and he deserved it: I was very impressed with his good sense of where to go and when to stop. The band communicated really well with each other: during one song, one member would jam for a minute or two, then, at exactly the same moment, the rest of the band would reach a climax and stop playing. The soloist would continue for a bar or two, and would be then joined again by the band, again with IMPECCABLE timing. As you can imagine, every time this happened, the crowd got more and more excited. They kept this intensity up right through the end of the encore, and I left the theatre having just bought Karl's latest CD, Dance Lesson #2, which I'm listening to right now for the third time (the concert ended two and half hours ago :), and feeling the need to dance my way home. Do yourself a favor and see this band: you won't regret it.

Giulio Pertile

[Published on: 8/10/01]

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